8 Signs and symptoms of potassium deficiency (hypokalemia)

Potassium is an essential mineral that has many functions in your body. It helps regulate muscle contractions, maintains a healthy nervous function and regulates fluid balance.

However, a national survey found that approximately 98% of Americans are not complying with the recommended potassium intake. It is likely that a Western diet is blamed, as it favors processed foods over whole plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans and nuts (1).

That said, a diet low in potassium is rarely the cause of potassium deficiency or hypokalemia.
The deficiency is characterized by a blood potassium level below 3.5 mmol per liter (2).

Instead, it occurs when your body suddenly loses a large amount of fluid. Common causes include chronic vomiting, diarrhea, excessive sweating and blood loss (3).

Here are 8 signs and symptoms of potassium deficiency.

1. Weakness and fatigue

Tired woman sitting on the bed

Weakness and fatigue are often the first signs of potassium deficiency.

There are several ways in which this mineral deficiency can cause weakness and fatigue.

First, potassium helps regulate muscle contractions. When potassium levels in the blood are low, your muscles produce weaker contractions (4).

Deficiency in this mineral can also affect the way your body uses nutrients, resulting in fatigue.

For example, some evidence shows that a deficiency could affect insulin production, resulting in high blood sugar levels (5).

Summary Since potassium helps regulate muscle contractions, deficiency can result in weaker contractions. In addition, some tests show that a deficiency can affect the handling of nutrients such as sugar in the body, which can cause fatigue.

2. Cramps and muscle spasms

Muscle cramps are sudden and uncontrolled contractions of the muscles.

They can occur when potassium levels are low in the blood (6).

Inside the muscle cells, potassium helps transmit brain signals that stimulate contractions. It also helps to end these contractions when leaving the muscle cells (7).

When the potassium levels in your blood are low, your brain can not transmit these signals so effectively. This results in longer contractions, such as muscle cramps.

Summary Potassium helps start and stop muscle contractions. Low levels of potassium in the blood can affect this balance, causing uncontrolled and prolonged contractions known as cramping.

3. Digestive problems

Digestive problems have many causes, one of which may be potassium deficiency.

Potassium helps transmit signals from the brain to the muscles located in the digestive system. These signals stimulate the contractions that help the digestive system to beat and propel the food so that it can be digested (8).

When potassium levels in the blood are low, the brain can not transmit signals so effectively.

Therefore, contractions in the digestive system can weaken and slow the movement of food. This can cause digestive problems such as bloating and constipation (9, 10).

In addition, some studies have suggested that a severe deficiency can cause the bowel to completely paralyze (11).

However, other studies found that the link between potassium deficiency and a paralyzed bowel is not completely clear (12).

Summary Potassium deficiency can cause problems such as bloating and constipation, as it can slow the movement of food through the digestive system. Some evidence shows that a severe deficiency can paralyze the bowel, but it is not completely clear.

4. Heart palpitations

Have you ever noticed that your heart beat faster, faster or skipped a beat?

This feeling is known as heart palpitation and is commonly linked to stress or anxiety. However, heart palpitations can also be a sign of potassium deficiency (13).

This is because the flow of potassium in and out of the heart cells helps regulate the heartbeat. Low levels of potassium in the blood can alter this flow, resulting in heart palpitations (14).

In addition, heart palpitations may be a sign of arrhythmia or an irregular heartbeat, which is also related to potassium deficiency. Unlike palpitations, arrhythmia has been associated with serious cardiac conditions (14, 15).

Summary Potassium helps regulate the heartbeat, and low levels can cause symptoms such as heart palpitations. These palpitations can also be a symptom of irregular heartbeat or arrhythmia, which can be a sign of a serious heart condition.

5. Muscle aches and stiffness

Muscle pain and stiffness can also be a sign of a severe potassium deficiency (16).

These symptoms may indicate rapid muscle breakdown, also known as rhabdomyolysis.

The levels of potassium in the blood help regulate the blood flow to the muscles. When the levels are very low, your blood vessels can contract and restrict the flow of blood to your muscles (17).

This means that the muscle cells receive less oxygen, which can cause them to rupture and leak.
This results in rhabdomyolysis, which is accompanied by symptoms such as muscle stiffness and pain (17).

Summary Muscle pains and stiffness may be another sign of potassium deficiency and are caused by rapid muscle breakdown (rhabdomyolysis).

6. Tingling and numbness

Those with potassium deficiency may experience persistent tingling and numbness (18).

This is called paresthesia and usually occurs in the hands, arms, legs and feet (19).

Potassium is important for healthy nerve function. Low levels of potassium in the blood can weaken nerve signals, which can result in tingling and numbness.

Although occasionally experiencing these symptoms is harmless, persistent tingling and numbness can be a sign of an underlying condition. If you experience persistent paresthesia, it is best to consult your doctor.

Summary Persistent tingling and numbness may be a sign of impaired nerve function due to potassium deficiency. If you experience persistent tingling and numbness in your hands, arms, legs or feet, it is best to see your doctor.

7. Difficulties breathing

A severe potassium deficiency can cause breathing difficulties. This is because potassium helps transmit signals that stimulate the contraction and expansion of the lungs (20).

When your blood levels of potassium are very low, your lungs may not expand and contract properly. This results in difficulty breathing (21).

In addition, the low level of potassium in the blood can cause difficulty in breathing, as it can cause the heart to beat abnormally. This means that less blood is pumped from your heart to the rest of your body (14).

Blood supplies oxygen to the body, so an altered blood flow can cause difficulty breathing.

In addition, a severe potassium deficiency can cause the lungs to stop working, which is fatal (22).

Summary Potassium helps the lungs expand and contract, so potassium deficiency can cause shortness of breath. In addition, a serious deficiency can prevent the lungs from working, which is fatal.

8. Mood changes

Potassium deficiency has also been linked to mood swings and mental fatigue.

Low levels of potassium in the blood can alter the signals that help maintain optimal brain function (23).

For example, one study found that 20% of patients with mental disorders had a potassium deficiency (24).

That said, there is limited evidence in the area of ​​potassium deficiencies and mood. More research is needed before making any recommendation.

Summary Potassium deficiency has been linked to mood swings and disorders. However, the link between the two is not entirely clear.

Sources of potassium

The best way to increase your potassium intake is to eat more potassium-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, beans and nuts.

The US health authorities UU They have established the recommended daily intake (RDI) of potassium at 4,700 mg (25).

Here is a list of foods that are excellent sources of potassium, along with the percentage of RDI found in a 100-gram serving (26):

  • Beet leaves, cooked: 26% of the RDI

  • Yams, baked: 19% of the RDI

  • White beans, cooked: 18% of the RDI

  • Clams, cooked: 18% of the RDI

  • White potatoes, baked: 16% of the RDI

  • Sweet potatoes, baked: 14% of the RDI

  • Avocado: 14% of the RDI

  • Pinto Beans, Cooked: 12% of the RDI

  • Bananas 10% of the RDI

Summary Potassium is found in a variety of whole foods, especially fruits and vegetables such as yams, white beans, potatoes and bananas. The recommended daily intake of potassium in the US UU It is 4,700 mg.

Should you take potassium supplements?

Over-the-counter potassium supplements are not recommended.

In the USA UU., Food authorities limit potassium in over-the-counter supplements to only 99 mg. In comparison, a medium banana contains 422 mg of potassium (27, 28).

This limit is likely to be low because studies have shown that potassium supplements in high doses can damage the bowel or cause an abnormal heartbeat, which is fatal (27, 29, 30).

Taking too much potassium can cause excessive amounts to accumulate in the blood, a condition known as hyperkalemia. Hyperkalemia can cause arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat, which can cause serious heart disease (31).

That being said, it's okay to take a potassium supplement in higher doses if your doctor prescribes it.

Summary It is not recommended to take over-the-counter potassium supplements, as they are limited to only 99 mg of potassium. In addition, studies have linked them to adverse conditions.

The bottom line

Very few people comply with the recommended intake of potassium.

However, a low intake of potassium is rarely the cause of the deficiency. Deficiency typically occurs when your body loses a lot of fluid.

The common signs and symptoms of potassium deficiency include weakness and fatigue, muscle cramps, muscle aches and stiffness, tingling and numbness, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, digestive symptoms and mood swings.

If you think you have a deficiency, be sure to visit your doctor, since potassium deficiency can have serious health consequences.

Fortunately, you can increase blood potassium levels simply by consuming more potassium-rich foods, such as beets, yams, white beans, clams, white potatoes, sweet potatoes, avocados, pinto beans and bananas.

Reference: https: //www.healthline.com/nutrition/potassium-deficiency-symptoms


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