What is the definition of Low Potassium Level?

Low blood potassium level is a condition in which the amount of potassium in the blood is lower than normal. The medical name of this condition is hypokalemia. 

What are the alternative names for Low Potassium Level?

Potassium - low; Low blood potassium; Hypokalemia

What are the causes for Low Potassium Level?

Potassium is an electrolyte (mineral). It is needed for cells to function properly. You get potassium through food. The kidneys remove excess potassium through the urinary system to keep a proper balance of the mineral in the body.

Common causes of low blood potassium include:

  • Medicines, such as diuretics (water pills), certain antibiotics
  • Diarrhea or vomiting
  • Eating disorders (such as bulimia)
  • Hyperaldosteronism
  • Laxative overuse, which can cause diarrhea
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Low magnesium level
  • Sweating
  • Genetic disorders, such as hypokalemic periodic paralysis, Bartter syndrome

What are the symptoms for Low Potassium Level?

A small drop in potassium level often does not cause symptoms, which may be mild, and may include:

  • Constipation
  • Feeling of skipped heart beats or palpitations
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle damage
  • Muscle weakness or spasms
  • Tingling or numbness

A large drop in potassium level may lead to abnormal heart rhythms, especially in people with heart disease. This can cause you to feel lightheaded or faint. A very low potassium level can even cause your heart to stop.

What are the current treatments for Low Potassium Level?

If your condition is mild, your provider will likely prescribe oral potassium pills. If your condition is severe, you may need to get potassium through a vein (IV).

If you need diuretics, your provider may:

  • Switch you to a form that keeps potassium in the body. This type of diuretic is called potassium-sparing.
  • Prescribe extra potassium for you to take every day.

Eating foods rich in potassium can help treat and prevent low level of potassium. These foods include:

  • Avocados
  • Baked potato
  • Bananas
  • Bran
  • Carrots
  • Cooked lean beef
  • Milk
  • Oranges
  • Peanut butter
  • Peas and beans
  • Salmon
  • Seaweed
  • Spinach
  • Tomatoes
  • Wheat germ

What is the outlook (prognosis) for Low Potassium Level?

Taking potassium supplements can usually correct the problem. In severe cases, without proper treatment, a severe drop in potassium level can lead to serious heart rhythm problems that can be fatal.

What are the possible complications for Low Potassium Level?

In severe cases, life-threatening paralysis may develop, such as with hypokalemic periodic paralysis.

When should I contact a medical professional for Low Potassium Level?

Call your provider right away if you have been vomiting or have had excessive diarrhea, or if you are taking diuretics and have symptoms of hypokalemia.

Blood

REFERENCES

Mount DB. Disorders of potassium balance. In: Skorecki K, Chertow GM, Marsden PA, Taal MW, Yu ASL, eds. Brenner and Rector's The Kidney. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 18.

Seifter JL. Potassium disorders. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 117.

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