It’s Important to Know the Symptoms of Low Potassium

November 12, 2012

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Potassium is a metal that has many functions in the body and brain. It is important for electrolyte balance, muscle contraction, maintaining membrane potential across all cells, electrical signaling in neurons, nutrient transfer across cell membranes and fluid balance throughout the body and brain. Low potassium levels can lead to serious health issues even to the point of passing out. It is important to know the symptoms of low potassium levels. Since potassium plays a crucial role throughout the body, there are many symptoms associated with low potassium levels.

Below is listed many of the symptoms of low potassium levels. This list is by no means complete but covers the major organ and tissues that are involved and the symptoms associated with each that a non medical person can recognize if they are having a problem.

Symptoms of Low Potassium by Organ or Tissue

  • Skeletal Muscle symptoms

mild to moderate muscle cramps that can be painful even at rest

mild to moderate muscle fatigue and/or weakness

  • Cardiovascular symptoms

arrhythmias (irregular heart beat/pulse)

low blood pressure (hypotension)

cardiac arrest (rare)

  • Nervous System symptoms

confusion

irritability

thirst

chills

depression

nervousness

sleeplessness

headaches

  • Gastrointestinal symptoms

nausea

vomiting

constipation

diarrhea

  • Multi-organ symptoms

fatigue (tired all the time)

dry skin

salt retention

high cholesterol levels

glucose intolerance

edema and/or dehydration

impaired growth

Some individuals are at greater risk than others for a potassium deficiency depending on age, diet, exercise, and any medications that are taken. If your are taking diuretics, corticosteroids and/or adrenal hormones, you are more likely to present with symptoms of low potassium. If your diet involves long-term fasting or taking in unusual foods or is high in sodium but low in fruits and vegetables, you are more susceptible to low potassium levels. If you are in a hot climate and sweat a lot or are exercising heavily, you will lose a lot potassium. Senior citizens tend to be low in potassium as well. Supplementation can often remedy any of the above conditions.

Individuals with certain health conditions are also susceptible to symptoms of low potassium. The list below includes some medical conditions that decrease potassium levels.

  • anorexia

  • diarrhea

  • alcoholism

  • malnutrition

  • diabetes

  • kidney dysfunction

  • long-term vomiting

  • respiratory failure

  • ulcerative colitis

  • inflammatory bowel disease

  • adrenal gland dysfunction

If you present with symptoms of low potassium, contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible. It may be necessary to take hair samples to test for potassium levels over a period of time. Current blood levels are not reliable. Potassium pills can be taken straight away however, if there is an underlying cause other than a dietary one, further testing may be required to determine where the deficiency is coming from. It could be an absorption problem in the gut, adrenal gland dysfunction, hypothalamic problem or some other cause. Once the low potassium levels are properly diagnosed, then a therapy can be determined. Just taking potassium pills might not be the answer.

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