Contributed by-Dr. Pooja Chaudhary
Most of us are unaware about the vital role that potassium plays in our survival. Potassium is one of the major electrolytes and is crucial in balancing the fluids and minerals level in the body and is essential for the normal functioning of the cells, tissues and organs (kidneys, heart etc.).
Did you know that changes in the potassium level can affect the normal functioning of the body and in several cases prove fatal?
Potassium is undoubtedly extremely important for the bodily functions and is also the third most abundant mineral found in the body. It is essential to understand the importance and all about potassium deficiency to avoid it.
Importance Of Potassium In The Body
Potassium is a type of electrolyte that helps to regulate the fluid balance in the body and to control the electrical activity of the heart and other muscles. It conducts electricity in the body, along with sodium, chloride, calcium, and magnesium. But that’s not all, the other important role that potassium plays in our body are:
- Works alongside sodium to maintain a healthy blood pressure
- Helps to transmit electrical pulse to allow for proper nerve and muscle function
- Regulates the functioning of calcium and phosphorous in the bone
- Helps move the nutrients into cells and waste products out of cells
- Needed to maintain the heartbeat rhythms and nerve impulses
Low potassium levels or lower potassium levels in the bloodstream is called Hypokalemia. Too much of potassium in the body is called Hyperkalemia. Maintaining the right potassium balance in the body depends on the amount of sodium and magnesium in the blood. The levels of potassium in the body means:
|· Normal potassium levels in the body – 3.6 to 5.2 millimoles per liter (mmol/L)|
|· Low potassium levels (life-threatening) – less than 2.5mmol/L|
What Causes Low Potassium Level?
Low potassium levels or Potassium deficiency can be caused due to a lot of factors, the major reasons include:
- Excessive sweating
- Laxative abuse
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Chronic kidney diseases
- Use of water retention relievers like diuretics
- Folic acid deficiency
- Certain antibiotics
- Excessive vomiting
What Happens If You Have Low Potassium Levels?
It is crucial to understand the effect of potassium and the role it plays in maintaining a healthy body. But, what will happen if we have low potassium levels or what can happen if the potassium levels are too low? Let’s, enlighten ourselves about the effects of low levels of potassium on our body.
Almost 98% of potassium is present in the cell. When the potassium levels are low, a person becomes weak as the cellular processing is impaired. Potassium symptoms are usually mild and mostly the effects are vague. Low potassium levels may have more than one sign which can involve the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, kidneys, muscles, heart and nerves. The most common symptoms of potassium deficiency include:
- Feeling weak or tired and having cramps in arms or leg muscles
- Tingling or numbness
- Nausea or vomiting
- Abdominal cramping bloating
- Palpitations (Having an irregular heartbeat)
- Feeling thirsty most the time or passing significant amount of urine
- Low blood pressure leading to fainting
- A person can have an abnormal psychological behavior like depression, psychosis, delirium, confusion, or hallucinations
Elders are most susceptible to various types of deficiencies due to certain medications, health problems or lost appetite. A low potassium level can have negative impacts on their health. Common symptoms of low potassium in the elderly include weakness, reduced energy, stomach pain, muscle cramps and an irregular heartbeat.
Diagnosis Of Low Potassium Levels
Low potassium levels or Hypokalemia is diagnosed by measuring the potassium levels in the body. The proper diagnosis process includes various steps which basically are:
- Measurement of potassium levels in the body
- Measuring the amount of potassium in the urine
Treatment Of Potassium Deficiency
The treatment of potassium deficiency begins by identifying the cause of the problem. Adequate recommended intake of potassium: 4,700 milligrams (mg) per day for adults. The treatment includes potassium supplement in small doses with food;
- Very low potassium levels: Patients suspected of very low potassium levels need to be on a cardiac monitor and IV (intravenous therapy) fluids.
- Mild or moderate low potassium levels: Patients suffering from mild or moderate potassium levels are mostly treated with potassium supplements in the form of pills or gels.
Note: Potassium supplements should be taken only under the supervision of a doctor.
Natural Food Sources Of Potassium
Along with the medical treatment, natural food sources can help in increasing the potassium levels in the body. Some of the natural food sources are as follows:
- Nuts like almonds, peanuts
- Citrus fruits
- Leafy, green vegetables
Potassium deficiency can be treated if one keeps the important factors in mind. It is important to pay heed to the smallest of symptoms and not ignore our health.
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