It is a common fact that right amounts of vitamins and minerals are essential for normal functioning of the human body. Magnesium is one such mineral that is necessary for various bodily functions. In fact, this mineral plays a key role in more than three hundred biochemical reactions that take place inside the body. Magnesium is vital for the proper functioning of nerves and muscles. This mineral helps in maintaining a steady heart rate and normal blood sugar levels. A major chunk of magnesium in the human body is found inside the cells and bones. A small amount of this mineral is found in the blood too. Now, you know how important is magnesium for our body. However, variations in normal magnesium levels may cause symptoms that may range from mild to severe.
Magnesium Levels in Blood
The normal blood level of magnesium in adults is 1.5 - 2.5 mEq/L (0.7 - 0.9 mmol). For kids, it is 1.7 - 2.1 mEq/L (0.70 - 0.86 mmol/L) and the normal magnesium levels in newborns is 1.5 - 2.2 mEq/L (0.62 - 0.91 mmol/L). Magnesium level in the body may drop due to various reasons. While slightly low magnesium levels may or may not produce any symptom, if the level is too low, the condition may cause severe symptoms and complications. Very low magnesium level is termed hypomagnesemia, which is said to occur when the level of magnesium drops below 1.8 mg/dL (0.74 mmol/L). It has been observed that in most cases, symptoms develop when the level of magnesium drops below 1.2 mg/dL.
Usually blood tests are done to evaluate the level of magnesium in the body. However, recent researches suggest that only one percent of the magnesium in the body is found in blood and the human body is highly efficient in keeping this level constant (unless and until, there is some severe problem). So, the blood magnesium levels may be constant, even if the concentration of this mineral in other locations decreases. So, serum magnesium tests (blood test for magnesium) may not be adequate to find out low magnesium levels in the body. It is said that this is one of the reasons why hypomagnesemia is not detected during the early stages. As per these studies, the condition goes undetected in more than 50% of people, who undergo the test. So, it has been suggested that advanced tests must be conducted to find out the exact level of magnesium in the body.
What Causes Low Levels of Magnesium
Even though, low magnesium level is not a common condition, it is also not rare. While magnesium deficiency is a term used to describe a low dietary intake of this mineral, hypomagnesemia is the condition which describes absolutely low levels of magnesium in the blood. So, levels of magnesium may drop due to various reasons. One is very low intake of dietary magnesium. Only one-third of the dietary magnesium is absorbed into the body and if your diet is deficient in magnesium-rich foods, then, it is natural to develop deficiency of this mineral.
Even if you take enough magnesium through foods, it may happen that the body does not absorb the mineral. This usually happens in people with certain medical conditions that interfere with the body's ability to absorb the mineral. Some bowel problems like, Crohn's disease may hinder the absorption of magnesium in the small intestine. In some cases, the kidneys may excrete magnesium in excess or fail to reabsorb the mineral. Such magnesium depletion is another reason for hypomagnesemia. The following are some of the conditions that may hinder with absorption of magnesium, either through the gastrointestinal tract or kidneys.
- Frequent diarrhea, Use of laxatives
- Use of certain drugs, like some antibiotics
- Use of proton pump inhibitors for long duration
- Alcoholism, Excessive stress
- Crohn's disease, Ulcerative Colitis
- Bartter's syndrome, Hyperaldosteronism
- Diabetic acidosis, Kidney failure
- Autoimmune disorders like fibromyalgia
Low blood magnesium may cause many different symptoms that may vary from mild to severe as per the severity of the condition. It may happen that some of the affected people do not experience any symptom at all. In such cases, the condition is detected through random blood tests.
- Magnesium deficiency or low dietary intake of magnesium may cause symptoms like muscle weakness, fatigue, dizziness, nervousness, confusion, irritability and hyperexcitability. Some people may have spasms of the esophageal muscles, making it difficult to swallow food.
- In case of very low magnesium levels or hypomagnesemia, symptoms like loss of appetite, nausea and/or vomiting, muscle cramps and spasms, involuntary jerky movements and eye twitching may develop.
- Other symptoms include migraine headaches, insomnia, depression, numbness, tingling, hallucinations and impaired memory. Some may also develop epileptic fits and tetany.
- Very low levels of magnesium may cause irregular heartbeat, hypocalcemia, hypokalemia and low levels of parathyroid hormone in the blood. Those with insulin resistance may witness worsening of symptoms, if they develop low levels of magnesium.
- If not detected in time, hypomagnesemia may cause complications like high blood pressure, tachycardia, heart failure, athetosis and personality changes.
Treatment for this condition is decided on the basis of various factors like severity of the condition and the accompanying symptoms. For those with mild symptoms, oral magnesium supplements are prescribed. Even a magnesium-rich diet may work wonders in improving mild symptoms. Intravenous treatment is meant for patients with severe magnesium deficiency symptoms. However, the underlying cause has to be treated, so as to prevent recurrence of hypomagnesemia. Those with very low levels of magnesium, may also require calcium and potassium supplements. Diagnosis of hypomagnesemia is usually done through blood and urine tests. Other tests like ECG may be required as per the additional symptoms and health problems. Advanced tests for checking magnesium levels are not so popular, due to the high costs.
In short, low magnesium levels can be prevented to some extent by including magnesium rich foods in your diet. If there are underlying causes, then, such a diet may not be of much use, unless and until you treat the cause. So, if you experience any of the symptoms mentioned above, consult your doctor and get the condition diagnosed and treated at the earliest, so as to avoid complications.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice. Visiting your physician is the safest way to diagnose and treat any health condition.