How to recognize symptoms of low potassium

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How to recognize symptoms of low potassium
How to recognize symptoms of low potassium

Potassium affects the nervous system and the connection between muscle fibers in the organs of the body, including the digestive system and the heart. Most of the body's potassium stores are inside the cells, and the level of potassium in the blood is maintained at a certain level by the endocrine system. Hypokalemia is a condition in which potassium levels in the body are low, which in turn decreases insulin sensitivity. People with hypokalemia face a variety of challenges.


Method 1 of 3: Identifying signs of hypokalemia

Recognize Symptoms of Low Potassium Step 1
Recognize Symptoms of Low Potassium Step 1

Step 1. Pay attention to the first signs of hypokalemia

The first signs of a low potassium content are muscle pain, cramps, and increased fatigue (including weakness of the muscles of the gastrointestinal tract and respiratory system, with a pronounced lack of this element). The low potassium content interferes with the recharging of neuromuscular cells, which leads to the fact that the muscle cannot contract normally.

Weakness, muscle cramps, tingling, or numbness may indicate a potassium deficiency, so see your doctor as soon as possible

Recognize Symptoms of Low Potassium Step 2
Recognize Symptoms of Low Potassium Step 2

Step 2. Get diagnosed as early as possible

Low potassium levels in the body can also affect heart function. Acute to moderate hypokalemia can cause abnormal heart rhythms, and severe hypokalemia can cause life-threatening arrhythmias. If potassium levels are low for a long time, it can cause structural and functional changes in the kidneys.

Elevated levels of potassium in the blood are even more dangerous. Symptoms of a severe excess of potassium can include irregular heartbeat, muscle pain, muscle weakness, abnormally high heart rate, and this can lead to cardiac arrest and death

Recognize Symptoms of Low Potassium Step 3
Recognize Symptoms of Low Potassium Step 3

Step 3. Consider circumstances that can lead to a decrease in potassium levels

If you have diarrhea, dehydration, vomiting, or weakness, you may need to check your potassium levels. To do this, it is necessary to conduct a biochemical blood test, including measuring the content of basic electrolytes in plasma, such as sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, chloride, hydrogen phosphate and bicarbonate.

Depending on the situation, your doctor may ask you to have a biochemical blood test, which includes markers of liver function in addition to testing for essential electrolytes

Method 2 of 3: Diagnostics

Recognize Symptoms of Low Potassium Step 4
Recognize Symptoms of Low Potassium Step 4

Step 1. Check your potassium levels

Serum potassium levels less than 3.5 mmol per liter (mmol / L) are considered low. Normal potassium levels are 3.6–5.2 mmol / L). Additionally, your doctor may ask you to measure electrolyte levels such as calcium, glucose, magnesium, and phosphorus.

  • The blood test may also include blood urea and creatinine levels, which are indicators of kidney function.
  • People taking digitalis should also have their digoxin levels checked, as this drug affects the heart rate.
Recognize Symptoms of Low Potassium Step 5
Recognize Symptoms of Low Potassium Step 5

Step 2. Take an electrocardiogram (ECG)

This will help you learn how the heart is functioning, determine whether or not there is damage or other potential problems. When taking an ECG, 12 electrodes are placed on the arms, chest, and legs (which can partially shave if necessary). These electrodes transmit information about the work of the heart to the monitor for 5-10 minutes. During the ECG recording, the patient should be in a state of maximum rest, otherwise, a second ECG recording may be necessary.

Low potassium levels can also be associated with low magnesium levels. This often leads to lengthening of the ECG intervals and the development of paroxysmal ventricular tachycardia of the "pirouette" type

Method 3 of 3: Identifying the Causes of Hypokalemia

Recognize Symptoms of Low Potassium Step 6
Recognize Symptoms of Low Potassium Step 6

Step 1. Talk with your doctor if hypokalemia can be caused by diuretics

Using diuretics can lower potassium levels in the body. People with certain medical conditions, such as hypertension, may need to take diuretics. However, if taking the drug lowers potassium levels, you may want to discuss alternative treatments with your doctor.

Diuretics refer to a class of drugs that include furosemide and hydrochlorothiazide (HCT). These drugs help lower high blood pressure by increasing urination. Unfortunately, high urine output can lead to the excretion of important minerals from the body, including potassium

Recognize Symptoms of Low Potassium Step 7
Recognize Symptoms of Low Potassium Step 7

Step 2. Consider if your lifestyle could be the cause of hypokalemia

Although low potassium levels are most often associated with medications and certain medical conditions, in some cases, hypokalemia can be caused by lifestyle choices that can be prevented. With excessive alcohol consumption, frequent use of laxatives, or heavy sweating, potassium deficiency may occur. Tell your doctor if your habits or conditions change.

  • If you cannot stop drinking on your own, then you need to seek professional help.
  • If you use laxatives frequently, talk to your doctor about how you can reduce your dependence on them using natural methods.
  • If you sweat profusely, you may need to change your lifestyle or place of life. Try to spend less time in the heat, drink a lot, or, if necessary, reduce sweating with special drugs.
  • Other causes of hypokalemia include chronic renal failure, diabetic ketoacidosis, primary and secondary hyperaldosteronism, and antibiotic use.
Recognize Symptoms of Low Potassium Step 8
Recognize Symptoms of Low Potassium Step 8

Step 3. Check if you are suffering from other medical conditions

Low potassium levels may indicate other serious medical conditions. Chronic renal failure and diabetic ketoacidosis can lead to low potassium levels - these conditions require immediate treatment. In addition, diseases such as folate deficiency and diseases of the gastrointestinal tract, accompanied by constant nausea and vomiting, can lead to low potassium levels.

Hyperaldosteronism leads to a syndrome accompanied by hypertension and hypokalemia

Recognize Symptoms of Low Potassium Step 9
Recognize Symptoms of Low Potassium Step 9

Step 4. Balance your diet

The best way to increase your body's potassium levels is to eat more potassium-rich foods. You can also take a potassium supplement, but be sure to talk to your doctor before doing this, as too much potassium is also unhealthy. Potassium is rich in foods such as:

  • bananas;
  • avocado;
  • tomatoes;
  • potato;
  • spinach;
  • beans and peas;
  • dried fruits.


  • Mild hypokalemia does not require medical treatment, especially when there are no severe symptoms. The doctor can only recommend dietary changes (with increased consumption of foods rich in potassium) and rely on the body's ability to self-regulate potassium levels.
  • Blood potassium tests can indicate how much potassium should be taken in liquid or pill form. In addition, you should ask your doctor to find out why your potassium levels are so low (including food and medications such as diuretics).
  • Severe hypokalemia may require medical treatment with intravenous potassium solution or pills. This may be necessary for patients with diabetic coma and ketoacidosis.
  • Potassium is a chemical element that occurs naturally only in the form of salts, for example in the form of potassium chloride, which is used as a salt substitute. Potassium chloride is less commonly eaten because it tastes differently from table salt (sodium chloride). Potassium is rich in sea water and many minerals. In addition, potassium is an essential element for almost all living organisms.

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