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Causes of Potassium Deficiency

Causes of Potassium Deficiency

Potassium ensures smooth functioning of the muscles and nerves, along with maintaining the electrolyte balance. Its deficiency can lead to several health problems, and can occur due to various reasons.
Chandramita Bora
Potassium is the chemical element, which occurs naturally as an ionic salt. Its elemental form is an alkali metal of silvery white color, but potassium cannot be found in its elemental form in nature. The elemental form is highly reactive with water. As an ionic salt, it can be found dissolved in sea water.
It is the seventh most abundant element in the Earth's crust. In human body, it is one of the electrolyte minerals, that is present is every living cell, and takes part in several vital cellular processes. A deficiency of potassium can lead to a number of health problems.
Biological Functions

In the human body, it ensures smooth functioning of the muscles and nerves, and maintains the electrolyte balance. It is also important for maintaining the acid-base balance in the body. Apart from these, the mineral plays a key role in muscle contraction, nerve transmission, conversion of glucose to glycogen, and the regulation of aldosterone levels in the body. It acts as a catalyst to accelerate the enzymatic reactions taking place in our body, and it is extremely important for the proper functioning of the cardiovascular system. It is believed that potassium intake can lower the risk of high blood pressure.

Also known as hypokalemia, it refers to a reduction in the level of potassium in blood. Such a condition, though rare, can be caused by a range of factors, right from insufficient dietary intake of potassium to certain underlying health conditions. However, deficiency due to poor intake of potassium is quite rare. Instead, its loss due to diarrhea, as well as urinary loss are some other causes.
Increased urinary loss of this mineral can be attributed to the intake of medications like diuretics, and inability of the kidney to retain enough amounts of it. Diseases like Cushing's syndrome as well as Liddle and Bartter syndrome can affect the kidney's ability to retain potassium, and thus, can lead to hypokalemia. Even a deficiency of magnesium, which is required for its processing, can eventually lead to hypokalemia.
Increased production of aldosterone, which can occur due to the development of tumors in the adrenal gland, and renal artery stenosis can be another important cause of this condition. In addition to these, some other possible causes are kidney or renal failure, renal tubular acidosis, vomiting, excessive perspiration, and intake of certain medications such as diuretics, laxatives, steroids, some antibiotics, and certain medications used for lowering the level of cholesterol in the body.
It is usually observed to be accompanied by the following symptoms.
  • Muscle weakness and breakdown of muscle fiber
  • Muscle pain or spasms
  • Fatigue
  • Abnormal heart rhythm
  • Anxiety
  • Hypertension
  • Improper sleep
  • Confusion and irritability
  • Constipation
  • Acne, skin dryness, and other skin problems.
  • Paralysis
Hypokalemia can be treated by identifying and addressing the underlying cause. Mild cases of deficiency may require the intake of oral potassium chloride supplements, in order to restore the normal levels in the body. If the levels have dropped to a significantly low level, then intravenous administration of potassium can be carried out.
One needs to keep in mind that elevated potassium levels in blood or hyperkalemia can also manifest while treating this condition. Therefore, people taking potassium supplementation should be extremely careful. They should take supplementation in the appropriate dosage, and only with the approval of their physician. People with low levels can however, benefit by including potassium-rich foods like bananas, oranges, cantaloupes, tomatoes, melons, potatoes, and grapefruit in their diet.