This article is purely for the purpose of providing information, and should not be used as a substitute for medical advice.
Potassium is one of the most vital minerals required by the human body. It has an important role to play in several body functions, including the smooth functioning of heart, kidney and skeletal system. Along with other electrolytes, such as magnesium and sodium, potassium produces electricity in the body. The deficiency of potassium - either because of low intake or unrestricted loss, initially surfaces in form of certain side effects, and turning a blind eye to these side effects only worsens the person's condition in the long run.
Low Potassium (Hypokalemia)
Hypokalemia, also referred to as potassium deficiency, is caused when the level of potassium in the body falls below the optimum level. Though rare, the chances of a person suffering from hypokalemia because of low potassium intake through his daily diet do exist. In most of the cases, this condition arises when high amount of potassium is lost through urine or vomiting. At the same time, there are cases wherein hypokalemia is caused as a result of the person's dependence on medications like Amphotericin, Antacids, Corticosteroids, Fluconazole and Insulin; all of which are known to decrease the levels of potassium in the body. Regardless of what the underlying cause is, lack of potassium in the body can hamper several body functions and trigger some life-threatening conditions which have to be treated at the earliest to avoid fatality.
The condition characterized by high potassium levels in blood is known as hyperkalemia, while the condition wherein less than required level of potassium is found in the bloodstream is known as hypokalemia. Both these conditions can lead to severe complications, and thus it is important to ensure that the optimum levels of potassium are maintained. Experts put the optimum level of potassium in our bloodstream in the range of 3.5-5.3 mEq/L. Only around 2 percent of the total potassium available in the body goes to the bloodstream, and minor discrepancies in this amount can surface in form of some obvious side effects on the body.
Side Effects of Low Potassium
Low potassium side effects usually surface in form of various signs and symptoms of potassium deficiency, including weakness, irregular heartbeat, stomach disturbances and frequently occurring muscle cramps. The person also experiences excessive fatigue, constant thirst, dryness of skin, and recurring chills. As these signs of low potassium are often associated with several other disorders, they are often misdiagnosed for some other health problem - which results in treatment delay. In such circumstances, the person has to go for certain tests, like the electrocardiogram, which are useful in diagnosis of this condition.
Other than these signs and symptoms, this condition also triggers other side effects on the body - most of which are attributed to the body functions wherein this mineral has a key role to play. The adverse effects of this condition also include relentless nausea, accompanied by frequent vomiting, diarrhea and constipation. Similarly, frequently occurring headache and insomnia are other low potassium side effects to watch out. People who consult a doctor with these seemingly minor problems are often asked to go for a tests and electrocardiograms as a part of hypokalemia diagnosis.
If the initial side effects of low potassium are ignored, the person's health can further worsen and result in severe health complications, such as heart attacks, high cholesterol, low blood pressure, etc. It has also been observed that the low potassium levels for extended periods lead to permanent scarring of the kidney. The inclusion of dietary supplements is one of the numerous methods to tackle this condition, but one needs to make sure that he opts for such supplements only after consulting a medical practitioner or a certified dietitian - these supplements do have certain side effects of their own.
Low Potassium Levels: What to Do?
As we said earlier, this is a condition which shouldn't be taken lightly, and it is in the best interest of the individual to consult a doctor when any of the symptoms of potassium deficiency surface. While the doctor will study the case and prescribe the treatment process, there are some simple things which can be done (alongside the medical treatment prescribed by the doctor) to tackle this condition. Ideally, an individual suffering from hypokalemia has to opt for a healthy, potassium rich diet to reverse this condition and return to normalcy. This would mean including potassium rich foods such as avocados, bananas, lima beans, tomatoes, apple cider vinegar, chicken and salmon in their daily diet. If he is taking any medication which is interfering with the body potassium levels, he should promptly consult a medical practitioner to decide the future course of action.
As in case of high potassium levels in blood, even low potassium levels can lead to grave consequences on the individual's health. It's important to tackle potassium deficiency signs and symptoms at the earliest, as there are high chances of the condition worsening with time. Potassium deficiency is one of the major health concerns in this era of junk food, and has to be tackled properly at the earliest. If that's not done, all the body functions wherein potassium has a key role to play will be hampered, and that will have a drastic impact on your overall health.