Health and MedicineDiseasesLow potassium (hypokalemia): what are its symptoms and causes?

Low potassium (hypokalemia): what are its symptoms and causes?

Do you have low blood potassium levels and don’t know why? We discover its causes and what to do to be able to raise them.

If there is a mineral that we find in a greater quantity in our body, there is no doubt that potassium becomes one of the most important. It consists of a macro mineral, which helps to maintain normal pressure inside and outside the cells, is essential in the functioning of the nervous system, regulates the water balance. Although it is not so common, in certain circumstances we can suffer from  hypokalemia, which consists of having a  low level of potassium in the blood.

This means that potassium levels in the blood are below 3.7 to 5.2 mega / L (3.7 to 5.2 moll / L), which are considered normal. Although we must warn that these figures may vary slightly from one laboratory to another.

What is hypokalemia and why does it occur?

Although it is medically known by the name of hypokalemia, it basically consists of the decrease, below values ​​considered as normal, of the circulating level in the blood of potassium, a mineral (electrolyte) essential for the proper functioning of cells, which is It is obtained mainly through the food we eat.

In order to maintain a proper balance of potassium in the body, the kidneys are able to eliminate excess potassium that may exist in the blood, through the urine.

There are several causes that can influence the decrease in potassium levels in the blood.  They are basically the following:

  • Consumption of certain medications and drugs. It is common in the case of diuretics (for example, through excessive losses of potassium through the urine) and certain antibiotics.
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Certain genetic disorders, such as Bartter syndrome or hypokalemic periodic paralysis.
  • Consumption of laxatives in excess (they can cause the presence of diarrhea).
  • Bulimia and other eating disorders.
  • Chronic kidney disease it consists of the chronic failure of the kidneys, which means that these organs are damaged and cannot adequately filter the blood, accumulating in the body different wastes that can cause damage.
  • Excessive sweating
  • Decreased levels of magnesium.

Symptoms of low potassium

In most cases, especially when the decrease in potassium levels in the blood is not very high; it does not tend to produce symptoms. In fact, in many cases these symptoms are usually mild. And if it occurs, the most common are the following:

  • Irregular heartbeat.
  • Constipation.
  • Muscle weakness or spasms.
  • Numbness and tingling in the joints.
  • Fatigue.

However, when potassium levels in the blood drop too low, it can cause heartbeats or abnormal heart rhythms, especially in people who already have heart disease. In these cases, symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, and fainting may arise.

Low potassium treatment

Depending on the level of potassium value in the blood, the medical treatment that is prescribed varies. Thus, if the condition is rather mild, medical treatment usually consists of oral administration of potassium pills or drugs. However, if the condition is severe, potassium can be given through a vein (IV).

Choosing to eat a diet rich in potassium is also a great idea. Or what is the same, a diet based on the consumption of foods rich in potassium. Foods such as plantains, avocados, potatoes, bran, carrots, dairy products, oranges, beans, peas, salmon, spinach, seaweed and tomatoes stand out especially.

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