If you have hypokalemia, that means you have low levels of potassium in your blood. Potassium is a mineral your body needs to function normally. It helps the muscles to move, the cells get the nutrients they need, and the nerves send their signals. It is very important for the cells in your heart. It also helps keep your blood pressure up.
There are many different reasons you can have low potassium levels. It is possible that too much potassium leaves your digestive tract. It is usually a symptom of another problem.
Usually, you get hypokalemia when:
- You vomit a lot
- You have diarrhea
- Your kidneys or adrenal glands don’t work well
- You take medication that makes you pee (water pills or diuretics)
It is possible, but not uncommon, for hypokalemia to have very little potassium in your diet.
Some things sometimes cause it, too, such as:
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Sweating a lot
- Folic acid deficiency
- Certain antibiotics
- Diabetic ketoacidosis (high levels of acids called ketones in your blood)
- Laxatives are taken over a long period of time
- Certain types of tobacco
- Some asthma medications
- Low magnesium
Several syndromes can be associated with low potassium, such as:
- Cushing’s syndrome
- Gitelman syndrome
- Liddle syndrome
- Bartter syndrome
- Fanconi syndrome
Women tend to get hypokalemia more often than men.
Low Potassium Side Effects
- Muscle cramps or twitching
- Arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythms)
- Hypokalemia can affect your kidneys. You may have to go to the bathroom more often. You may also feel thirsty
- Medicines, such as diuretics (water pills), certain antibiotics
- Eating disorders (such as bulimia)
- Laxative overuse, which can cause diarrhea
- Chronic kidney disease
- Genetic disorders, such as hypokalemic periodic paralysis, Bartter syndrome
You will need a blood test at your doctor to find out if you have hypokalemia. They will ask you about your health history. They will want to know if you have ever had an illness that involved vomiting or diarrhea. They will ask about any conditions you may have that may be causing them. You can take a urine test so that your doctor can determine if you are losing potassium when you urinate.
Since low potassium can sometimes affect your blood pressure, your doctor will check that, too. They may also want to do an electrocardiogram (EKG) if they think you may have an arrhythmia. This is one of the most serious side effects, and it can change the way your doctor chooses to treat the problem.
You can get a lot of potassium by taking supplements. Many of these you can take orally. In some cases, it is necessary to have your potassium injected IV.
- If your potassium level is too low
- If taking supplements does not increase your potassium levels
- If your low potassium levels cause an abnormal heart rate
When your hypokalemia is the result of another medical condition, your doctor will help you to manage that. If you have low potassium due to urine, they can remove it from them. Sometimes that makes the situation worse.
Always check with your doctor before stopping any medication. Also, ask them before taking any potassium supplements. This can cause a lot of potassium to build up in your system, which can lead to hyperkalemia.
What can happen if your potassium level is too low?
A low potassium level has many causes but usually results from vomiting, diarrhea, adrenal gland disorders, or use of diuretics. A low potassium level can make muscles feel weak, cramp, twitch or even become paralyzed, and abnormal heart rhythms may develop.
How serious is low potassium?
It is critical to the proper functioning of nerve and muscle cells, particularly heart muscle cells. Normally, your blood potassium level is 3.6 to 5.2 millimoles per liter (mmol/L). A very low potassium level (less than 2.5 mmol/L ) can be life-threatening and requires urgent medical attention.
Can low potassium cause a heart attack?
If potassium levels in the blood get too low, you can develop an abnormal heart rhythm or even have a heart attack or sudden cardiac arrest.
Can drinking too much water cause low potassium?
Drinking too much water can cause side effects that range from mildly irritating to life-threatening — and overhydration can lead to an imbalance of electrolytes in the body. Electrolytes such as potassium, sodium, and magnesium.
Can low potassium cause a stroke?
Low Potassium Intake May Increase Stroke Risk. Summary: People with a low amount of potassium in their diet may have an increased risk of stroke, according to a study published in the August 13 issue of Neurology, the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
Can low potassium cause anxiety?
If you have low levels of potassium, you may experience an increase in your anxiety symptoms. Anxiety is an abnormal feeling of worry, fear, apprehension, or nervousness. Anxiety can occur for a number of reasons and comes in varying degrees of intensity. One common cause of anxiety is poor diet.