8 Symptoms of Low Potassium

Low potassium is a problem that can affect people of all ages and lifestyles. Doctors often refer to this condition as hypokalemia, and it occurs when blood potassium levels fall below 3.5 millimoles per liter. If potassium levels drop below 2.5 millimoles per liter, immediate medical intervention is needed to prevent potentially life-threatening complications. Without sufficient levels of potassium, cells within the body are unable to function as efficiently. Electrical signals that are transmitted by potassium can keep nerve, muscle and heart cells working properly. Potassium also works with sodium, calcium, magnesium and chloride to balance the body’s water levels and keep the heart beating at a normal rhythm.

Several factors are known to cause low potassium. Quite often, potassium levels drop to insufficient levels after diuretic medications are taken to control high blood pressure by inducing urination. Taking laxative and certain antibiotics can also cause low potassium. Chronic kidney disease, diabetic ketoacidosis and primary aldosteronism are among the medical conditions that often decrease potassium levels within the body. Potassium levels can also be insufficient due to not eating enough potassium-rich foods such as bananas, avocados and pears.

1. Weakness

An unusual feeling of weakness is one of the telltale signs of potassium deficiency. Since muscle cells are unable to function as productively when potassium levels are low, the body can begin to feel weaker and heavier. This weak sensation can make it difficult to maneuver while engaging in athletic activities or performing simple everyday tasks. Weakness may be especially apparent when standing after sitting for a prolonged period. In severe cases, the muscles can become so weak that they are unable to move properly, which may result in temporary paralysis. Breathing and digestive problems can also occur due to weakness in the respiratory and gastrointestinal muscles.

Chronically low potassium levels may cause muscles to become so weak that their fibers begin to break down and release themselves into the bloodstream, and this can result in kidney damage. Feeling excessively weak might make it more difficult to see a doctor to receive the necessary care, and this can stand in the way of getting potassium to higher levels. Muscles will continue to grow weaker if exercising is impossible because of the fatigue that is caused by low potassium. Weakness can also result in a loss of appetite, which creates an additional challenge when more potassium-rich foods are supposed to be eaten.