Learn from this article about the possible hypokalemia complications which may occur when the condition goes unnoticed or is left untreated.
Among the various nutrients our body requires for its daily functioning, is one dietary mineral and electrolyte known as potassium. This mineral remains stored in the body cells. Some of the most important functions of this nutrient in the body include helping in muscle building, maintaining a stable balance of electrolytes, aiding in nerve functioning, contributing in the proper regulation of blood pressure, and regulating the functioning of the heart and the kidneys.
Now, due to certain factors, there could occur a dearth of this essential mineral in the body, causing the condition known as hypokalemia. 3.6 to 4.8 milliequivalents per liter (mEq/L) is considered to be the normal amount of potassium that is required by the body. Anything less than that, and especially lower than 2.5 mEq/L, can create a life-threatening situation for a person, which would require emergency medical aid. Symptoms that may be indicative of a person having low potassium levels may include weakness, cramps in muscles, constipation, fatigue, and abnormal beating of the heart.
Possible Complications of Hypokalemia (Low Potassium)
Cardiac arrhythmia is nothing but irregular beating of the heart, in the form of the heart beating faster or slower than normal. Most cases of this problem do not indicate anything serious, but some do, and may even be life-threatening too. Although not all people experience any symptoms, some who do, may complain against:
- a fluttering sensation in the chest
- pain in the chest
- heartbeat going slow or fast
- dizzy spells
When the supply of potassium to the body gets depleted, the muscles are also the ones that get affected. That is why, people having hypokalemia complain about muscles cramps, abnormal fatigue and muscle weakness. In some people, the condition may even cause paralysis, a condition known as hypokalemic periodic paralysis. Here, the affected person can feel muscles weakness or may suffer severe paralysis, but in the form of periodic events. In most cases, this condition is inherited from one or both the parents. Symptoms of this condition:
- occurs mostly after sleep or rest, or after awakening
- the areas at the shoulders and hips are the places that are commonly affected
- may get triggered by alcohol, salty meals, or meals rich in carbohydrates
Hypertension is characterized by a force more than normal, with which blood pushes against the walls of the arteries as it circulates throughout the body. Most people develop this condition for years, without even knowing about it. This is because of the absence of any symptoms, even when the condition has reached a critically serious level. A very few people may experience:
- frequent nosebleed
Another common complication that can be caused by hypokalemia is constipation. This problem is characterized by passing less than three stools a week, and the stools becoming hard and dry. Other related symptoms may include:
- straining excessively during bowel movements
- feeling as though something is blocking the rectum
- sense of incomplete evacuation even after a trip to the bathroom
A major chunk of the total potassium in the body remains in the cells. Changes in the potassium levels such as hypokalemia can cause cellar damage, and this may show up in the malfunctioning of the heart, nerves, and muscles.
Treatment is necessary to keep the condition of hypokalemia to cause all such complications. Depending upon the type and severity of the patient’s symptoms, potassium replacement therapy is administered to manage the condition. Patients whose lab tests and diagnosis declare their state to be highly severe, are placed on a cardiac monitor and have an IV started. However, for people who have less or no symptoms, or are not bothered much by the condition, the treatment can be done with the mere help of potassium pills or the same in liquid form. To conclude, patients who seek medical treatment on time, usually do not suffer from any such complications. And in rare cases, the condition may cause death, but only if it is too severe.