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

Decreased potassium

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

This means that blood potassium levels are below 3.7 to 5.2 mEg / L (3.7 to 5.2 mmol / 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 is it produced?

Although it is medically known as hypokalemia, it basically consists in the decrease, below values ​​considered normal, of the circulating level in the blood of potassium, a mineral (electrolyte) essential for the proper functioning of the cells, which obtains fundamentally through the foods we consume.

In order to maintain an appropriate balance of potassium in the body, the kidneys are able to eliminate excess potassium that can exist in the blood, through the urine.

There are several causes that can influence the decrease of potassium levels in the blood. Fundamentally they are 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 excess laxatives (may 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 can not properly filter the blood, accumulating in the body different waste that can cause damage.
  • Excess of sweating
  • Decreased levels of magnesium.

Why low potassium

Symptoms of low potassium level

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 in case of occurring, the most common are the following:

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

However, when potassium levels in the blood drop a lot, it can cause the appearance of heart beats or abnormal heart rhythms, especially in people who already have heart disease. In these cases, symptoms such as dizziness, nausea and fainting may occur.

Treatment of low potassium

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

It is also a very good idea to choose to follow a diet rich in potassium. Or what is the same, a diet based on the consumption of foods rich in potassium. Especially noteworthy foods such as bananas, avocados, potatoes, bran, carrots, dairy, oranges, beans, peas, salmon, spinach, seaweed and tomatoes.

This article is published for informational purposes only. It can not and should not replace the consultation with a Physician. We advise you to consult your Trusted Doctor.

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