Potassium deficiency can occur if a person does not get enough potassium from their diet or loses too much potassium through prolonged diarrhea or vomiting. The symptoms depend on the severity of the deficiency but can include high blood pressure, constipation, kidney problems, muscle weakness, fatigue, and heart issues.
Potassium is an essential nutrient that the body requires for a wide range of functions, including keeping the heart beating. Severe potassium deficiency is called hypokalemia, and it occurs when a person’s potassium levels fall below 3.6 millimoles per liter (mmol/L).
Doctors consider a person to have severe hypokalemia — a potentially life-threatening condition — when their potassium levels are less than 2.5 mmol/L.
In this article, we describe some of the possible symptoms of potassium deficiency.
Constipation Potassium plays an important role in relaying messages from the brain to the muscles and regulating muscle contractions. Low potassium levels can affect the muscles in the intestines, which can slow the passage of food and waste. This effect on the intestines can cause constipation and bloating.
Muscle weakness Potassium deficiency can affect other muscles in the body, including those in the arms and legs, which can lead to general muscle weakness and cramping.
A person loses small amounts of potassium through sweat, which is why heavy sweating from intense physical activity or being in a hot climate can often lead to muscle weakness or cramping.
Unexplained fatigue Potassium is an essential nutrient that is present in all of the body’s cells and tissues. When potassium levels fall, this can significantly affect a wide range of bodily functions, which can lead to low energy levels and both physical and mental fatigue.
High blood pressure Blood pressure monitor being applied to arm of person with potassium deficiency or hypokalemia Low potassium levels can lead to an increase in blood pressure, particularly in people with a high sodium, or salt, intake. Potassium has an important role in relaxing the blood vessels, which helps lower a person’s blood pressure.
Potassium also helps balance sodium levels in the body. A diet high in sodium is a common cause of high blood pressure. Doctors often recommend that people with high blood pressure lower their sodium intake and increase their potassium intake.
Polyuria The kidneys are responsible for removing waste products and regulating the levels of fluids and electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium, in the blood. They do this by passing waste and excess electrolytes out of the body in the urine.
Moderate-to-severe hypokalemia can interfere with the kidneys’ ability to balance fluid and electrolyte levels in the bloodstream, and this can lead to increased urination, which is called polyuria.
Muscle paralysis People with severe hypokalemia can experience muscle paralysis. When the levels of potassium in the body are very low, the muscles are unable to contract properly and may stop working altogether.
Breathing problems Severe hypokalemia can also lead to breathing problems. Breathing requires the use of several muscles, particularly the diaphragm. If a person’s potassium levels become very low, these muscles may not work properly. A person may have difficulty taking a deep breath or may feel very short of breath.
Irregular heart rhythms Another symptom of severe hypokalemia is an irregular heart rhythm. Potassium plays an important role in regulating the contractions of all muscles, including the heart muscle.
Very low levels of potassium in the body can lead to irregular heart rhythms, including sinus bradycardia, ventricular tachycardia, and ventricular fibrillation. If a person does not receive treatment, these conditions can be life-threatening.
(Source : Health Data Feeds)