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Electrolyte balance is important for proper functioning of your body and potassium is crucial for maintaining a wide range of body activities including muscle contractions, blood pressure, heart rate, normal flow of body fluids and assisting several enzymatic reactions. Hypokalemia is characterized by abnormal drop in potassium levels of the body.

Normal range of potassium is somewhere between 3.6 – 5.2 mmol/L while in hypokalemic state it plummets below 2.5 mmol/L. 


Symptoms of hypokalemia

Very minute drop in potassium levels do not show up any symptoms, however in case of hypokalemia the patient will be suffering from the following complications: 

  •  Severe weakness and fatigue in muscles
  •  Cramping and spasms in muscles
  •  Abnormal heart beat
  •  Palpitations or skipped heart beat
  •  Constipation or loss of bowel control
  •  Nausea and vomiting
  •   Feeling extremely thirsty
  •  Loss of appetite
  •  Trouble in respiration


Causes of hypokalemia

Hypokalemia is usually a side effect of a primary health disorder or side effect of medicines. A normal healthy individual doesn’t experience such abnormal drop in potassium levels. The possible causes are:

  •  Side effect of diuretics or water pills and antibiotics
  •  Overdose of laxatives
  •  Excessive vomiting, diarrhea and sweating
  •  Symptom of chronic kidney disease and diabetic ketoacidosis
  •  Deficiency of magnesium and folic acid
  •  Overconsumption of alcohol
  •  Overproduction of the hormone aldosterone


When to see a doctor

Hypokalemia usually gets detected while getting yourself checked for another health condition. In other case if you observe the aforementioned symptoms despite not having any disease then you should seek for immediate help because too little potassium could be a life threatening condition.


Diagnosis of hypokalemia

The exact cause of hypokalemia may not be known in some cases. However, your doctor would examine the symptoms and order for blood test for measuring electrolyte balance for potassium, sodium, calcium and magnesium. Kidney function test and hormonal test for aldosterone and thyroid would also be recommended.

Since your heart might function abnormally, an ECG would also be recommended. Apart from these tests, your doctor would check your history of medical conditions and the medicines that you might be taking.


Treatment for hypokalemia

If your condition is serious then your doctor would retain you in the hospital and start IV drip immediately to restore potassium. Readings for potassium would be noted periodically. In less severe cases, potassium supplements would be given to prevent further drop in potassium.

Additionally, other symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain, abnormality in hormones, etc. would be managed by your doctor with appropriate drugs and specific treatment options.

Your doctor might consider stopping or changing the dosage of medicines that has lead to such abnormal low levels of potassium.

Self care for low potassium

To maintain your potassium levels for an extended period, you need to take care of yourself at home as well. This can be achieved by the following ways:

Eat foods rich in potassium. You need to start eating spinach, figs, avocadoes, baked potatoes, bananas, carrots, salmon, peas, beans, tomatoes, lean beef, oranges and milk.

Cut down on your physical activity for sometime till you regain you normal health and energy. Slowly start off with mild warm up like walking for 15 minutes every day to keep yourself physically fit.

Do not over consume laxatives even if you have constipation problem. Rather drink plenty of water, fibrous fruits and vegetables and milk to normalize your bowel movement.

Get your electrolyte levels routinely checked to avoid an emergency medical condition.

Written by: healthplus24.com team
Date last updated: September 24, 2014