Low potassium or hypokalemia refers to a medical condition, wherein the level of potassium in the bloodstream drops below normal. The following article discusses the risks associated with this disorder.
Potassium is an electrolyte. Electrolytes are salts (ions) that are electrically-charged. The cells in our body, especially nerve, heart, and muscle cells, use these electrolytes to carry electrical impulses (nerve impulses, muscle contractions and relaxations) across themselves and to other cells. Potassium also helps in regulating the heartbeats and functioning of the muscles. A significant drop in the level of this nutrient may lead to complications related to the heart or the nervous system.
Under normal circumstances, the level of this electrolyte should lie between 3.5 and 5.0 mEq/L (mEq/L means milliEquivalents per liter of blood). A level below 3.5 mEq/L is indicative of a deficiency. Hypokalemia mainly occurs due the excessive loss of potassium through urine, vomiting, diarrhea, ileostomy, villous adenoma, diuretic medications, renal tubular acidosis, and low magnesium levels in the body, rather than low potassium intake through diet. Following are the complications related to its deficiency.
Its deficiency can cause abnormal beating of the heart, called dysrhythmia. In this condition, there may be weak pumping of the blood by the heart to other parts of the body due to the abnormal contraction of the heart muscles. Due to this low supply of blood, there can be sudden lowering of blood pressure, that can cause nausea and fatigue. The person may also experience a sudden fast heartbeat, which is a potentially life-threatening condition, as it can cause cardiac arrest.
Another risk is serious damage to the kidneys, that could leave them non-functional. A severe condition known as the hypokalemic nephropathy, could also be caused due to potassium deficiency.
Another life-threatening complication of low levels of potassium is paralysis. This is a disease where the deficiency can strike all of sudden, rendering a few major organs in the body non-functional. It can occur in any part of the body, but is mainly associated with the digestive system wherein the food cannot be digested properly, leading to cramps in the stomach and intestine, constipation, bloating, etc.
Since potassium is necessary for the health of the bones, hypokalemia may increase the incidence of osteoporosis.
Some other dangerous effects can be lethargy, fatigue, sores, muscle spasms and body ache, and a feeling of tiredness throughout the day. Other disorders like anxiety and irritability, mood swings, depression, emotional changes, and other temporary mental issues are also observed in hypokalemia. It is always better to increase the intake of potassium in our diet. Some of the common dietary sources of this nutrient are fruits like bananas, strawberries, apricots, and avocados; vegetables like peas, beets, tomatoes, greens, and mushrooms; and meat like fish, turkey, and beef.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.