Low Potassium: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Potassium is an essential mineral that helps our body to function properly. In fact, it is a type of electrolyte that is critical to maintain the body’s balance of fluids in order to keep you hydrated, regulate muscle contractions, and balance pH levels throughout the body. 

Low levels of potassium is a condition called hypokalemia, and it can be detrimental to our health. On the more conservative side, it can cause muscle weakness, cramps, and heart palpitations. On the more extreme side, it can cause high blood pressure, kidney stones, and can even lead to respiratory failure. Here’s everything you need to know about low potassium: 

Causes of Low Potassium:

Hypokalemia can occur due to different reasons. One reason being a decreased intake of potassium through the diet. While this is an important and critical aspect of it, low potassium can also happen due to excessive excretion of potassium through the urine or GI tract (frequent vomiting or diarrhea); and this is a more common reason for low potassium in the body. 

So, how does this occur?  

  • Increased intake of diuretic drugs

  • Kidney disorders affecting renal function

  • Damaged intestines or infections

  • Chronic laxative abuse

  • Prolonged vomiting or diarrhea

Signs and Symptoms of Low Potassium:

The severity of symptoms depend on both the levels of potassium in the body and the duration of the condition. These symptoms can range from mild to extreme. The good news is that the symptoms usually resolve once potassium levels are back to normal!

Some symptoms of mild hypokalemia include:

  • Fatigue

  • Constipation

  • Muscle weakness

More extreme symptoms include:

  • High blood pressure

  • Heart palpitations and abnormal heart rhythms

  • Kidney problems and kidney stones

  • Tingling or numbness

  • Vomiting and diarrhea

  • Paralysis

Treatment through the Diet:

Mild cases of potassium deficiency are easily treated with an increased intake of potassium-rich foods. In just a few days, you should expect your potassium levels to rise back up to normal. 

While there is currently no recommended daily intake for potassium, the U.S. Dietary Reference Intakes suggest that an adult woman gets an adequate intake of 2,600mg of potassium daily, and an adult man gets an adequate intake of 3,400mg of potassium daily. 

Potassium is highly available in many foods, especially in fruits and vegetables. Some potassium-rich foods to include in your diet are:

  • White Potatoes

  • Winter Squash

  • Bananas

  • Spinach

  • Avocado

  • Broccoli

  • Almonds and cashews

  • Tomatoes 

Make sure you are getting enough potassium in your diet on a daily basis in order to avoid any complications that lead to hypokalemia. Check out this awesome recipe from Pure Plates that contains lots of potassium and other essential nutrients: spinach artichoke stuffed chicken

The Key Takeaway

Your body requires lots of care and attention from you. It’s critical that you pay attention to what you’re eating and make sure that you’re incorporating a variety of foods that include essential nutrients, like potassium and many others! 

The good news is that there are many foods available that contain potassium in them, so as long as you’re getting adequate amounts of these foods daily, it’s difficult to develop a potassium deficiency. Pure Plates offers a variety of potassium containing foods to ensure that you are not deficient for those without certain conditions and if you are already deficient, offers a selection of choices to raise your potassium levels.

In the case of more extreme cases of low potassium, make sure that you consult your primary care physician in order to get this problem addressed as soon as possible! If you’re wondering what your potassium levels look like, schedule a well visit with your physician today.