What is low potassium level?

Low Potassium Level

Hypokalemia: Overview

Hypokalemia (say "hy-po-kuh-LEE-mee-uh") is a low level of potassium. The heart, muscles, kidneys, and nervous system all need potassium to work well.

This problem has many different causes. Kidney problems, diet, and medicines like diuretics and laxatives can cause it. So can vomiting or diarrhea. In some cases, cancer is the cause. Your doctor may do tests to find the cause of your low potassium levels.

You may need medicines to bring your potassium levels back to normal. You may also need regular blood tests to check your potassium.

If you have very low potassium, you may need intravenous (I.V.) medicines. You also may need tests to check the electrical activity of your heart. Heart problems caused by low potassium levels can be very serious.

What are the symptoms of hypokalemia?

Symptoms of hypokalemia include muscle weakness or cramping. You may have nausea, diarrhea, frequent urination, confusion, and mood changes. It may feel like your heart is missing beats. You may pass out (lose consciousness). In severe cases, your heart may stop due to cardiac arrest.

How is hypokalemia treated?

If your doctor recommends it, you can eat foods that have a lot of potassium. These include bananas, potatoes, sweet potatoes, milk, and lentils. Your doctor may give you medicines, such as potassium and magnesium. These may be given in pills or through an I.V.

How is hypokalemia diagnosed?

To diagnose hypokalemia, your doctor will examine you and ask about your health. You will have a blood test to check on your potassium levels.

How can you care for hypokalemia?

  • If your doctor recommends it, eat foods that have a lot of potassium. These include fresh fruits, juices, and vegetables. They also include nuts, beans, and milk.
  • Be safe with medicines. If your doctor prescribes medicines or potassium supplements, take them exactly as directed. Call your doctor if you have any problems with your medicines.
  • Get your potassium levels tested as often as your doctor tells you.

What causes hypokalemia?

Hypokalemia may happen when the body loses large amounts of certain fluids. Severe vomiting or diarrhea can cause it. So can medicines like certain diuretics and some types of antibiotics. Certain kidney problems, alcohol use disorder, severe burns, and—in some cases—cancer treatments may be the cause.

What is hypokalemia?

Hypokalemia (say "hy-poh-kay-LEE-mee-uh") is a low level of potassium in the blood. Potassium is both an electrolyte and a mineral. It helps keep the right mix of fluids in your body. It also helps keep your heart beating normally and your nerves and muscles working as they should.

Hypokalemia: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You feel like your heart is missing beats. Heart problems caused by low potassium can cause death.
  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have a seizure.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You feel weak or unusually tired.
  • You have severe arm or leg cramps.
  • You have tingling or numbness.
  • You feel sick to your stomach, or you vomit.
  • You have belly cramps.
  • You feel bloated or constipated.
  • You have to urinate a lot.
  • You feel very thirsty most of the time.
  • You are dizzy or lightheaded, or you feel like you may faint.
  • You feel depressed, or you lose touch with reality.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

©2011-2024 Healthwise, Incorporated

The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.