The medical term which refers to the dearth of potassium level in the body is 'hypokalemia'. Here, the amount of the nutrient gets lower than normal, and gives rise to bouts of signs and symptoms. Potassium is one of the most essential requirements of the body, vital for the proper functioning of the nerve and muscle cells. It is one of the important electrolytes that are concentrated within the cells in the body. The serum is the fluid part of the body, and this very fluid contains about 2% of the total potassium in the body. Even a small change in the serum levels of potassium is enough to trigger several unpleasant reactions in the body thus, giving rise to various symptoms.
Around 3.6 to 4.8 milliequivalents per liter (mEq/L) is considered to be the normal measure of potassium in healthy individuals. And 70-100 mEq (270 to 390 mg/dl), is the amount that has to be the daily intake of the same. The same amount is removed by the kidney each day. However, if more than this is removed, then this results in hypokalemia or low potassium level. So when this condition occurs, the measure may dwindle to less than 2.5 mEq/L.
What May Indicate Hypokalemia?
Hypokalemia symptoms are difficult to detect. This is because, these symptoms tend to mimic those of other medical conditions that affect the human body. So, a professional medical diagnosis is the only way through which the condition of hypokalemia can be detected thus, treated. The most common symptoms which may occur in people with hypokalemia include weakness and fatigue for no apparent reason.
Muscle cramps may also accompany, and so do digestive disorders such as constipation. A condition known as arrhythmia (muscle contractions take place in an abnormal rate) may also be one of the manifestations of low potassium in the body.
Other symptoms may include frequent urination, fainting, abdominal cramps, vomiting, and numbness. The condition is also known to trigger the onset of psychological disorders like depression, confusion, hallucinations, etc.
It is obvious to state that occurrence of one or more of these symptoms in a person does not confirm him/her to be suffering from the condition of low potassium. However, it cannot be said for sure that they won't. So it is necessary that all such symptoms are reported to a medical expert so that the potential problems could be ruled out.
Causes of Hypokalemia
Certain medical conditions are to be blamed for causing the potassium levels in the body to drop. Conditions which are commonly associated with the condition are eating disorders, use of water pills, excessive use of laxatives, diarrhea, and constipation. Other causes of low potassium are vomiting, and chronic kidney failure (of a chronic form). A condition known as primary aldosteronism triggers too much production of a hormone aldosterone by the adrenal gland. Aldosterone is responsible for balancing the level of sodium and potassium in the blood. But when it is produced in excess, it causes the body to lose potassium while retaining too much of sodium. Therefore, even this condition is one of the causes of hypokalemia.
Depending upon the severity of the symptoms of the affected individual, the course of the potassium replacement therapy, is decided. The treatment for the condition generally begins post tests which confirms the diagnosis. Patients who have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, may be treated with potassium given in pill or liquid form. However, to deal with extreme cases, patients may need to undergo treatment which involves intravenous administration of potassium.
Some simple changes in the diet are good enough to maintain a healthy potassium level in the body. Apart from following the doctor's recommendations, people who stay vulnerable to suffer attacks of hypokalemia, must inculcate potassium rich foods in their daily diet. Common examples include bananas, tomatoes, oranges, peaches, cantaloupe, oranges, strawberries, greens, mushrooms, peas, beef, fish, turkey, etc.