7 things that happen when the body lacks potassium

“A body that is deficient in potassium will experience several health problems. These disturbances include weakness, muscle cramps, constipation, nausea, and heart rhythm disturbances.

Potassium deficiency is when a person has very low potassium levels in their body. This condition is also known as hypokalemia. Potassium is a mineral that helps regulate fluids in the body and helps muscles and nerves work properly.

Usually hypokalemia occurs when the body loses a lot of fluids. This can be due to chronic vomiting, diarrhea, excessive sweating and blood loss.

Normally, potassium in the blood is in the range between 3.5 to 5 mEq/L. If the number is less than that, or even only 2.5 mEq/L, you must be vigilant because this condition is a dangerous advanced hypokalemia.

Complete information about what can happen to the body if there is a lack of potassium, you can read it here!

Factors That Can Increase the Risk of Hypokalemia

There are several factors that can increase the risk of hypokalemia, including:

  • Prolonged use of laxatives.
  • Eating disorders, such as bulimia nervosa.
  • Excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis).
  • Alcohol use disorder.
  • Low magnesium levels (hypomagnesemia).

Have certain kidney conditions, such as Bartter syndrome and Gitelman syndrome. Both are rare genetic kidney disorders that cause imbalances in the body.

Other conditions such as heart disease also have a higher risk of hypokalemia. Further explanation about the heart and hypokalemia can be read in this article. The Danger That Occurs When the Body Lacks Potassium.

Have medical conditions such as Bartter syndrome, Liddle syndrome, to diabetic ketoacidosis.

Bad diet.

Impact that Happens If the Body Lacks Potassium

In fact, a body that is experiencing hypokalemia can be seen from the symptoms the sufferer feels. Here are some things that can happen when the body is deficient in potassium:

1. Experiencing twitches or cramps in the muscles

According to research conducted by a research team from McGill University in Montreal, Canada, published in The Annals of Surgery, potassium deficiency can cause muscle weakness and cramps. Muscle cramps are sudden and uncontrollable muscle contractions. This condition can occur when low potassium levels in the blood.

Within muscle cells, potassium helps relay signals from the brain that stimulate contraction. This helps end this contraction by exiting the muscle cell. When blood potassium levels are low, the brain cannot relay signals effectively. This results in longer contractions, such as muscle cramps.

2. Constipation

When levels in the blood decrease, the brain cannot convey signals effectively. Thus, the contractions in the digestive system become weaker and slow down the movement of food. This can cause digestive problems such as bloating and constipation.

3. Stomach ache or digestive problems

Digestive problems have many causes, one of which may be a deficiency of this mineral. This mineral with atomic number 19 is supposed to help convey signals from the brain to the muscles located in the digestive system. These signals stimulate contractions that help the digestive system process and propel food so it can be digested.

4. Frequent nausea and vomiting

Its role in the digestive system, making potassium deficiency can cause nausea and vomiting sensations. If this happens, the condition of hypokalemia that occurs can be more severe. Because, vomiting can make the body excrete potassium found in food.

5. The heart has palpitations or beats abnormally

Have you ever felt that your heart suddenly beats faster, faster or doesn't beat? This feeling is known as heart palpitations and is commonly associated with stress or anxiety.

However, palpitations can also be a sign of a potassium deficiency. Based on health data published at the Harvard School of Public Health, potassium has an important role in the body's functioning system. Digestion and muscle contraction are two of them.

Related to muscle contraction, including how the heart beats. A pounding heart or irregular heartbeat is often a sign of an arrhythmia, but it can also be a sign of potassium deficiency.

6. Often thirsty, but also often urinate

Hypokalemia can also impair the ability of the kidneys to process urine. As a result, the intensity of urination increases (polyuria) and is accompanied by excessive thirst or what is also known as polydipsia.

7. Numbness or tingling

In addition, a deficiency in this mineral that has an important role for the nervous system can result in persistent tingling and numbness. This is known as paresthesia and usually occurs in the hands, arms, legs and feet.

Potassium is important for healthy nerve function. Low levels in the blood can weaken nerve signals, which can cause tingling and numbness. Sometimes these symptoms can also appear and are not dangerous.

What Causes Hypokalemia?

Low blood potassium usually occurs due to excessive loss of potassium in the digestive tract. This condition may be due to frequent digestive disorders such as vomiting and diarrhea. Other causes of hypokalemia include:

Chronic or prolonged kidney disease.

Disorders of the adrenal glands such as primary aldosteronism and Cushing's syndrome.

Take diuretic drugs because diuretic drugs can cause too much potassium to be excreted in the urine (urine).

Recognize the Symptoms of Hypokalemia

In mild cases, hypokalemia may not cause any symptoms. However, when symptoms do occur, signs may include:

  • Constipation.
  • Heart palpitations.
  • Extreme tiredness (tiredness).
  • Muscle weakness and spasms.
  • Tingling and numbness.

In more severe cases, this condition can cause symptoms such as:

  • Muscle twitches
  • Muscle cramp.
  • Severe muscle weakness, causing paralysis.
  • Low blood pressure (hypotension).
  • Lightheadedness or fainting.
  • Abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia).
  • Excessive urination (polyuria).
  • Excessive thirst (polydipsia).

Meanwhile, during pregnancy, there are a number of early signs or symptoms of potassium deficiency in pregnant women.

How to Diagnose Hypokalemia

In fact, it is not difficult to determine if the level of potassium in the blood is at normal levels or not. You just need to check your health condition. Usually, doctors advise you to do urine tests, blood tests, and ECG examinations. So, any strange symptoms you feel, you should not take them for granted.

Treatment of Hypokalemia

In cases of mild hypokalemia, the doctor will prescribe potassium supplements which the person with hypokalemia will take by mouth. If the symptoms are more severe, your doctor may give you potassium through your vein (intravenously). Reasons people with this condition may need potassium intravenously include:

  • The body's potassium level is very low.
  • Hypokalemia causes abnormal heart rhythms.
  • Supplements that sufferers consume do not work.
  • People with hypokalemia lose more potassium than can be replaced by taking supplements.

Meanwhile, the doctor will also treat any conditions that cause hypokalemia. For example, general practitioners can give anti-diarrheal drugs, hypokalemia occurs due to prolonged diarrhea.

Complications of Hypokalemia to Watch Out for

Left untreated, severe hypokalemia can cause serious heart rhythm problems. In addition, life-threatening paralysis can also occur. Therefore, it is important for people with potassium deficiency to always check their condition and follow the doctor's recommendations. Read more about hypokalemia in the article Factors That Increase the Risk of Hypokalemia.

Prevention of hypokalemia

Everyone can reduce the risk of developing hypokalemia by eating foods that contain potassium. Foods that have a lot of potassium include:

  • Avocado.
  • Banana.
  • Beans and peas.
  • Dark leafy green vegetables.
  • Fish.
  • Lean beef.
  • Milk.
  • Orange.
  • Peanut butter.
  • Potato.
  • Spinach.
  • Tomato.

Apart from consuming proper potassium intake, steps to prevent hypokalemia will also depend on the cause. For example, if diarrhea is the cause, then the preventive measure you can take is to prevent diarrhea. You can do this by diligently washing your hands, consuming cooked drinks and food, and consuming lots of water.