potassium deficieny

Potassium Deficiency – Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

Potassium deficiency or hypokalemia is a condition occurring due to the lack of enough potassium in the body. Potassium (K) is an electrolyte and mineral that is essential to maintain the electrolyte balance in the body. So, losing it due to prolonged diarrhea, vomiting, any underlying health condition, or taking any medication can result in hypokalemia. While the problem is simple, without proper medical assistance, it can cause severe complications. The condition can range from moderate to severe and you can see symptoms depending on the severity. When your body shows signs of hypokalemia, get the necessary help from the doctor to prevent the condition from causing severe complications. Read ahead to know more about it.

About Potassium Deficiency

Potassium Deficiency

Potassium (K) is an essential nutrient and electrolyte in the body. It is essential for a wide range of functions in your body. It is responsible for the muscle functioning in the body, including keeping your heart beating. So, potassium deficiency can trigger several issues in your body. How can you say you have hypokalemia? When your potassium levels fall below the normal range of 3.6 millimoles per liter (mmol/L), then you suffer from hypokalemia. But, when the levels fall to dangerously low levels of less than 2.5 mmol/L, then you suffer from severe hypokalemia, a potentially life-threatening condition. So, you need to observe your body for signs indicating the issue and get the necessary treatment.

Symptoms Of Potassium Deficiency

We have discussed what hypokalemia is. In normal cases, you never check the electrolyte levels during the routine blood tests. So, how can you detect if you are suffering from the condition? If you suffer from hypokalemia, you can see some symptoms. So, look out for the following symptoms that indicate the condition and get the necessary medical assistance.



K is an important mineral/electrolyte for your body as it plays an important role in relaying messages from your brain to muscles. It aids in regulating your muscle contractions. Due to hypokalemia, your muscles in the intestines get affected. So, it results in the slowing of the passage of food as well as waste. As a result, you can suffer from constipation and bloating.

One Of The Signs Of Potassium Deficiency: Muscle Weakness

Hypokalemia can affect the muscles in the body. So, you can suffer from muscle weakness in your legs and arms. It leads to general muscle weakness and cramping. If you observe closely, people tend to lose a small amount of K when you sweat. It is the reason why you feel cramping or muscle weakness after staying out in a hot climate or intense physical activity.

Unexplained Fatigue

K is an essential nutrient for your body. It is present in the cells and tissue in your body. When you suffer from hypokalemia, it can affect a wide range of bodily functions. So, you can suffer from low energy levels. It causes both mental and physical fatigue.

Develop High Blood Pressure

Hypokalemia has a bad effect on your blood pressure. So, it can cause an increase in blood pressure in people who have high salt or sodium intake. It is because potassium has a significant role in relaxing your blood vessels. This action causes the lowering of blood pressure as it keeps the sodium-potassium balance in the body. So, most doctors suggest people include a diet low in sodium and an increased intake of the electrolyte to overcome hypokalemia.


Your kidneys are responsible for flushing out the waste products from your body. It also regulates the fluid and electrolyte balance. So, kidneys maintain the sodium-potassium balance in your blood. It is achieved by passing the excess amount of electrolytes and waste through urine. When you suffer from moderate to severe hypokalemia, it can interfere with the kidney functions. So, it affects the fluid and electrolyte balance in the bloodstream. This results in increased urination, which is also known as polyuria.

Muscle Paralysis Due To Potassium Deficiency

Muscle Paralysis Due To Potassium Deficiency

People suffering from severe hypokalemia can suffer from muscle paralysis. It occurs due to the low levels of potassium. The reduced levels of the electrolyte can result in the inability of the muscles to contract properly. At times, the muscles stop working altogether.

Breathing Problems

You can suffer from breathing problems due to severe hypokalemia. Since breathing properly requires the use of several muscles, hypokalemia can cause the muscles to weaken. It specifically affects the diaphragm. So, you find it difficult to take a deep breath or you can experience shortness of breath.

One Of The Symptoms Of Potassium Deficiency: Irregular Heart Rhythms

If you experience irregular heartbeat, then it indicates you suffer from hypokalemia. The electrolyte plays an important role in the contractions of all your muscles, including the muscles in your heart. Severe hypokalemia can cause irregular heart rhythms like:

It is possible for the doctor to detect irregular heart rhythms by suggesting EKG (electrocardiogram) for the suspected patients.

Causes Of Potassium Deficiency

Your body can suffer from potassium deficiency due to several underlying reasons. Here are some of the most common reasons triggering hypokalemia.

Use Diuretics

The most common cause of hypokalemia is the use of prescription medication to increase urination. The prescription medication referred to as diuretics or water pills are suggested for people suffering from heart disease or high blood pressure. So, you will lose excess salt from the urine to reduce blood pressure. It leads to the loss of potassium from the urine.

Excessive Alcohol Use

Acute and chronic alcohol consumption can affect potassium levels in your body. It is because drinking alcohol can affect normal kidney function. It can trigger kidney diseases along with the liver disease. With excess alcohol consumption, the structure and function of kidneys are affected. So, it affects the composition of fluids as well as electrolytes in the body. It can result in the deficiency of potassium as you pass the electrolyte from the urine.

Potassium Deficiency Due To Kidney Disease

People suffering from severe kidney disease can see potassium levels decreasing. In normal cases, kidneys work to flush off the excess salt and waste from your body. It also acts as a major route of potassium ion excretion. Limited potassium is expelled from the body for maintaining potassium regulation. With kidney disease, this function gets obstructed. So, it can lead to a reduction in potassium levels.

Diabetic Ketoacidosis And Treatment

People suffering from diabetes need to get medical assistance to control it. Without proper management, diabetes can cause a serious complication known as diabetic ketoacidosis. It is a condition occurring when the body produces high levels of ketones (blood acids). Due to the condition, your body fails to produce enough insulin. Insulin is the key factor in regulating the sugar levels in your blood. Sugar (glucose) is the main source of energy for your muscles and tissues. When your body fails to produce enough insulin, ketones tend to accumulate in the body. It causes the ketones to enter your urine. The condition can result in changes in electrolytes like sodium, potassium, and bicarbonate.

Diabetic Ketoacidosis And Treatment

Diabetic ketoacidosis is a medical emergency needing prompt medical attention. During the treatment, your doctor provides insulin and fluids through IV. This can cause potassium levels to go down. So, the low levels can put the activities of the vital organ at risk.

Potassium Deficiency Due To Diarrhea

When you suffer from water, loose, and frequent bowel movements, then it leads to several problems. Apart from dry mouth, dehydration, and other issues, you can also suffer from low potassium in your body. In some people, diarrhea is short-lived. So, it lasts for only a few days. But, long-lasting problem indicates the presence of some severe problem that needs immediate medical attention.

Excessive Laxative Use

The frequent use of laxatives continuously for several weeks or months can make cause issues with your colon. It decreases the colon’s ability to contract properly. So, it can worsen constipation or lead to diarrhea. It results in the loss of potassium from the stool, leading to its deficiency.

Profuse Sweating

When you sweat badly, you not just lose water content from your body but also the necessary electrolytes. So, you lose chloride, sodium, and potassium from the body due to sweating. So, when the body is losing a lot of water due to exercise, strenuous physical work, or any other health condition, you need to replace the electrolytes lost due to sweating. Else, you can suffer from hypokalemia.

Folic Acid Deficiency

Folate deficiency or the reduced intake of folic acid can result in hypokalemia in your body. It is because most of the foods rich in folic acids also contain potassium. Also, folate deficiency can result in diarrhea. So, it results in electrolyte imbalance in your body.

Primary Aldosteronism

Due to the hormonal disorder, you tend to develop high blood pressure. The condition usually occurs due to the production of a hormone known as aldosterone by your adrenal glands. The adrenal gland produces a number of hormones essential for your body, including aldosterone. Apart from increasing the blood pressure levels, the hormone can also trigger hypokalemia.

Use Of Antibiotics

While the use of antibiotics in normal doses may not affect the electrolyte levels in your body. But, in large doses, certain antibiotics can cause hypokalemia. It develops due to medication-induced renal potassium excretion. Here are some of the antibiotics causing hypokalemia when used in larger doses:

  • Ampici-lin
  • Penicillin
  • Carbenicillin
  • Nafcillin

The same effect also occurs when you take amphotericin B as well as aminoglycoside therapy.

Potassium Deficiency Caused By Vomiting

Vomiting the food or fluid contents can lead to hypokalemia. While your gastric fluid itself contains a little potassium, vomiting can result in metabolic alkalosis. It is the complex pathogenesis resulting in the excretion of the electrolytes from the body. So, it results in hypokalemia and its complications.

Complications Of Potassium Deficiency

Why is potassium deficiency a condition you need to take caution? Due to hypokalemia, you can experience other complications that prove fatal. So, you need medical intervention to deal with the condition. Never self-medicate and always follow the guidance of your doctor. The complications due to hypokalemia are:



Due to hypokalemia, you can develop a condition known as tachycardia. It makes your heartbeat rise. So, it beats more than a hundred times per minute. When you suffer from hypokalemia, your myocardial cells can inhibit the sodium-potassium pump. So, it results in early abnormal depolarization of your cardiac myocyte.

 Ventricular Fibrillation

 Ventricular Fibrillation

The flow of the electrolyte in and out of your heart cells aids in the heartbeat regulation. So, hypokalemia can result in heart palpitation due to altering the normal flow. It results in heart rhythm problems triggering quivering of the heart chambers instead of pumping blood. Due to the condition, you experience ventricular fibrillation.

Temporary Paralysis

Periodic paralysis or temporary paralysis can occur due to hypokalemia. The condition is also referred to as hypokalemic periodic paralysis. Due to the condition you experience episodes of extreme muscle weakness. The condition begins in childhood or adolescence. It results in the episodes involve a temporary inability to move your muscles in the legs and arms. People experiencing the attack suffer from severe weakness or paralysis, resulting from hours to days.

Acute Respiratory Failure

Due to hypokalemia, you are at high risk of developing acute respiratory failure. It occurs due to fluid building up in the air sacs present in your lungs. It results in the failure to receive oxygen-rich blood to different organs in your body.

See A Doctor For Potassium Deficiency

If you are suffering from IBD (inflammatory bowel disease), then it is possible to suffer from hypokalemia. It is because IBD can cause severe vomiting or diarrhea. Due to the excess loss of fluid from the body, you can experience potassium deficiency. The condition is also common when you take certain medications for an underlying health condition. Therefore, the use of diuretics or laxatives can also result in the condition. But, when you see the symptoms of the condition, then consult your doctor immediately. Severe problems like irregular heart rhythms, breathing problems, or muscle paralysis needs immediate medical attention. So, never delay consulting a doctor. With proper medical attention, you can overcome the problems without any complications.

Diagnosing Potassium Deficiency

When you observe the symptoms mentioned above, seek an appointment with the doctor. While potassium deficiency may seem like a simple problem, it needs medical intervention to avoid serious complications. When you see a doctor, you need to undergo the following to evaluate your condition and get prompt assistance:

Assessing Your Condition

To determine the severity and extent of hypokalemia, your doctor tries to detect the actual cause of the condition. So, your doctor reviews the medical history of the patient. When you suffer from certain medical conditions or take medications to treat some underlying issue, it reduces the potassium levels in your body. By knowing the medical history as well as medications, your doctor can come to a conclusion. When a patient has clear symptoms like vomiting or diarrhea, it is easy to determine the cause of the condition. Your doctor can easily detect the issue when you take certain medications or other drugs. When the actual cause remains unclear, your doctor suggests tests. So, your doctor suggests the following:

Medical History

The majority of the time, your doctor determines the exact cause of the condition by reviewing medical history. The medical history gives detailed information regarding the medications you take and other health conditions that can cause the problem.

Urine Tests

In some cases, the doctor may not understand the actual cause of hypokalemia. In such cases, the doctor orders for urine tests. The test measures the excretion of the electrolyte/mineral in the urine to determine the exact cause of hypokalemia.

Blood Tests

You need to give a sample of your blood to detect the electrolyte levels in your body. So, the lab technician takes your blood sample and tests for the levels of calcium, phosphorous, and magnesium. It also measures the levels of potassium. Then, the doctor tries to identify the actual cause of hypokalemia.


Hypokalemia can affect the heart muscles. So, it cannot function properly, which results in abnormal heart rhythms. If the doctor suspects hypokalemia, then an ECG (electrocardiography) can check for abnormal heart rhythms.

Treatment For Potassium Deficiency

The treatment for hypokalemia depends on the severity of the problem. If you have mild symptoms, then your doctor prescribes some medication and diet change. While severe cases need treatment in the hospital. So, after diagnosis, based on the symptoms you show and the levels of electrolyte in the body, you can undergo the following:

Treatment For Mild Potassium Deficiency

For mild cases of hypokalemia, you can consult a doctor to get the right recommendations. The suggested treatment options include:

  • Reducing the dose or stopping the medications causing hypokalemia.
  • Take daily potassium supplements.
  • Include foods like fruits and vegetables containing the electrolyte/mineral.
  • Take the medication prescribed by the doctor like angiotensin receptor blockers or angiotensin-converting enzyme.

Treatment For Severe Cases Of Potassium Deficiency

People suffering from severe cases of hypokalemia needs immediate medical treatment. So, your doctor recommends getting treatment in the hospital. It is important to monitor the treatment offered as excess levels of potassium can result in severe heart and muscle problems. So, while prescribing hypokalemia treatment, your healthcare provider maintains caution. Frequent checking is necessary to ensure the electrolyte levels stay in the normal range and never exceed. Here are the treatment steps followed by the doctor:

Identify And Remove Causes Resulting In Potassium Deficiency

It is essential to identify the underlying cause of severe hypokalemia. Therefore, proper diagnosis is necessary to detect the condition causing the problem. Based on the diagnosis, your doctor suggests appropriate treatment. For example, your doctor suggests taking medication to reduce or ease vomiting or diarrhea triggering hypokalemia. If medications induce the condition, then the healthcare professional changes the medication.

Maintain The Electrolyte Balance

To overcome hypokalemia, your doctors suggest taking potassium supplements. But, the healthcare professionals monitor the condition frequently as fixing hypokalemia too quickly can result in unwanted side effects like abnormal heart rhythms. In severe cases of hypokalemia, your doctor provides an IV drip for a controlled intake of the electrolyte. Controlled intake is essential to avoid any serious complications.

Recommend Special Diet To Overcome Potassium Deficiency

After you leave the hospital, your doctor specifies a diet to address hypokalemia. You need to follow the diet suggest or take supplements as recommended by the doctor. Make sure you take the supplements with lots of fluids. You need to take the supplements with or after your meals. In some cases, you suffer from magnesium loss along with hypokalemia. Therefore, you need to take magnesium supplements to overcome the loss.

Prevent Potassium Deficiency

Is it possible to prevent hypokalemia? When you suffer from diarrhea or vomiting, it is possible to lose the electrolyte balance. Underlying issues like IBD and the use of certain medications can also increase your risk of developing hypokalemia. So, you need to ensure you get enough potassium in your diet to overcome the loss. While the severity of hypokalemia depends on the symptoms you suffer, issues like heart problems, severe fatigue, muscle problems, and constipation can only make your hell hard. To avoid the condition from escalating, see a doctor. Get the necessary treatment. You can also include a potassium-rich diet to overcome the condition.

Diet To Overcome Potassium Deficiency

The best way to get enough potassium is to eat a varied diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables. According to doctors, you need to take K daily. The recommended daily intake of K can vary for men and women. Here are the actual required levels needed for your body

Adult Males

You need to take 3400 milligrams (mg)

Adult Females

For women, 2600 mg is necessary

So, how can you get the necessary nutrients to avoid hypokalemia? A wide range of foods has K needed for your body. So, including vegetables, fruits, dairy products, meat, whole grains, and nuts can offer you the necessary nutrients to maintain the electrolyte balance. Your body can absorb 85% to 90% of the K you consume. If you are wondering how to eat get the necessary amount of K from the different food sources, here are some of the examples:

  • Include a half cup of dried apricots as it contains 1101 mg
  • East cooked lentils as it contains 731 mg/cup
  • Half cup of dried prunes contains 699 mg
  • Drink a cup of orange juice as it contains 496mg/cup
  • A medium-sized banana contains 422 mg
  • A cup of 1%-fat milk contains 366 mg
  • 1%-fat milk: 366 mg per cup
  • Eating 2 cups of spinach has 334 mg
  • 6 ounces of nonfat fruit yogurt contains 330 mg
  • Eating half a cup of cooked, chopped broccoli has 229 mg
  • Eat a cup of cooked brown rice as it has 154 mg/cup

In order to avoid hypokalemia, you need to include a wide range of healthy food in your diet. A healthy diet can prevent the condition and keep you fit.


You can easily treat potassium deficiency with the assistance of a healthcare team. With medical intervention, it is possible to detect the underlying medical condition triggering the condition. In moderate cases, you can control the electrolyte levels in the body through diet as well as supplements. So, make an appointment with your doctor as early as possible. With medical intervention at the right time, you can prevent hypokalemia from developing into serious complications that can affect your normal life. Make the right decision by choosing to see a doctor as early as possible and follow the instruction to keep away any serious health complications.

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