Signs and Symptoms of Low Potassium

signs and symptoms of low potassium

Potassium is an important mineral that is required by all tissues of the body. It is sometimes called electrolyte because it carries a charge that stimulates the cells. Hypokalemia or potassium deficiency – is a condition in which the potassium level in human blood is below 3.5 mmol/L. There are many signs and symptoms of low potassium levels in your body. They serve as a caution to enhance your potassium intake in your everyday diet.

Unfortunately, most individuals do not meet their daily potassium intake due to unhealthy lifestyles.

Potassium is deficient in processed foods, but it is abundant in whole foods such as vegetables, fruits, and nuts.

Other factors like medications, malnourishment, and certain medical conditions also contribute to hypokalemia.

Potassium is important for proper body functioning. It helps in nerve functioning, maintains the level of fluids, and regulates muscle contraction.

Potassium can be found in many foods, like tomatoes, coffee, Greek yogurt, cooked lentils, dried apricots, broccoli, beef, milk, banana, and orange juice. There are plenty of other food choices to get the potassium to meet your daily recommended potassium intake.

The recommended daily intake of potassium for women is 2600 mg and for men is 3400 mg.

Read on to learn everything about the potassium deficiency symptoms in humans, their causes, and treatment.

Causes of hypokalemia

Hypokalemia can occur due to multiple factors like:

  • Medications
  • Eating disorders
  • Diarrhea
  • Malnourishment
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Kidney failure
  • Excessive use of alcohol
  • Diuretics
  • Folic acid deficiency
  • Excessive use of laxatives
  • Excessive sweating
  • Low magnesium levels in the body also lead to hypokalemia

Signs and symptoms of low potassium levels

There are the following signs and symptoms of low potassium:

Digestive problems

Potassium is necessary for the efficient passage of information from your brain to your muscles.

The smooth muscles in the stomach also need the help of potassium to get relay signals from the brain. It smoothly runs the digestive system by mixing, pushing, and digesting the food.

But if your potassium level is low, it will disrupt the smooth coordination between the brain and muscles. As a result, it causes digestive problems such as constipation, bloating, or indigestion.

Muscle cramps

Muscle cramps occur due to low levels of potassium in the blood. Potassium is needed for the contractions of the muscles. It helps in brain coordination to control the muscles for contractions.

But, a low potassium level in the blood impairs the brain’s capacity to communicate adequately to initiate and stop contractions.

As a result, it causes uncontrolled contractions of muscles that can be painful. Usually, when there is only a mild deficiency of potassium, it does not cause cramps. The potassium levels below 2-2.5mmol/L can trigger it.

High levels of potassium are also damaging to the body. It causes the breakdown of the muscle and releases proteins into the bloodstream that can harm the organs.


As we know, potassium is required for muscle contractions. When the human body gets a limited amount of potassium, its muscles produce weaker contractions. That results in weakness and fatigue.

Fatigue may also occur due to deficiency of potassium as it may cause an impact on the body to use certain other minerals.

For instance, in a few studies, deficiency of potassium has been demonstrated to cause a lack of processing of some nutrients such as sugar. It may lead to fatigue.

Difficulty breathing

The process of breathing involves diaphragm muscles to relax and contract. When there are low levels of potassium, it may lead to breathing difficulties.

In severe cases, the lungs may even stop working. This respiratory failure is caused by low potassium levels, which prevent the lungs from contracting and relaxing appropriately.

You must immediately seek medical advice under this condition.

Irregular heart rate

Like other muscles, potassium also plays a vital role in the contractions of heart muscles.

Irregular levels of potassium in the blood may lead to irregular heart rate. It can be a sign of a serious heart illness, so you must consult your doctor.

Frequent urination

Frequent urination can be another potassium deficiency symptom in humans. Low potassium levels can impair kidney function.

Your kidney may lose its ability to concentrate the urine and manage the electrolyte balance in the body. It results in frequent urination. This condition may also result in increased thirst.

It is good to see your doctor because the loss of electrolytes through excessive urination may further reduce the level of potassium in your body.


Potassium is quite important for proper nerve functioning. Low levels can result in the weakening of nerve signals. It causes numbness of the legs, arms, and feet.

Numbness is common, but if it occurs regularly – it may indicate an underlying health problem. It is good to see your doctor.

High BP

Electrolytes are essential for blood pressure regulation. The deficiency of potassium can lead to high blood pressure.

Your kidneys remove the extra sodium with the help of potassium. When your body lacks enough amount of potassium, it will reabsorb the sodium. It results in high blood pressure.

You must have heard about the people having high BP due to increased intake of salt. When your body has a low amount of potassium, kidneys will not be able to excrete the sodium and reabsorb it, resulting in an increased amount of sodium in the blood.

A low intake of potassium in a daily diet can increase the chances of high blood pressure.

The best solution is to add more potassium-rich foods to your diet to maintain steady blood pressure.

If you are continuously facing the problem of high blood pressure, it is good to see your doctor. You may also try these high BP home remedies.


Hypokalemia is mainly treated with the help of a medical professional. Your doctor will identify the cause of the condition and recommend the treatment accordingly.

If you are only relying on potassium-rich foods, it will not be enough for you.

Since most potassium-rich foods come with phosphate – if you are facing hypokalemia, you are likely to experience chloride deficiency as well. So it is good to take potassium chloride supplements.

Talk to your doctor and take 70-80 mmol of potassium supplements for a few days. If you have severely low potassium levels, you may need to take these supplements for many weeks.

Always talk to your doctor before taking these supplements, as they can irritate the digestive tract. So these supplements should be taken with food in small doses instead of one large dose.

Mostly taking oral potassium supplements is enough to treat hypokalemia. If this condition is due to a medication, your doctor will replace it.

Similarly, if a low potassium level is due to some digestive or other problems, your doctor will identify and treat it.

In case of severe hypokalemia, IV (intravenous) treatment is recommended. IV is usually recommended when:

  • Oral supplements are not working
  • Abnormal heart rhymes occur due to low levels of potassium
  • Potassium is hazardously low
  • Loss of potassium is greater than its replacement with food or supplements

You must undergo strict medical supervision while going through IV due to the risk of rebound hypokalemia.

Should I take a potassium supplement?

Potassium deficiency can only be treated with the help of potassium-rich food at home. But self-treatment or taking oral supplements to treat hypokalemia is not recommended.

For mild symptoms of low potassium, you may take 70-80 mmol per day. In most conditions, treating hypokalemia with supplements is sufficient without causing any harm to health.

These supplements may irritate the gut lining, so they must be taken with food in small doses. Avoid high doses of potassium supplements as it may lead to bleeding of the gut lining.

It is good to talk to a doctor before taking these supplements. The excessive use of potassium supplements may cause the building up of minerals that lead to a condition called hyperkalemia. It is dangerous and can cause serious heart problems.

Sources of potassium

Potassium is found in many fruits, vegetables, nuts, dairy products, and beans.

Following foods are a few of many sources of potassium. Adding them to your diet will help you meet your daily recommended potassium intake.

  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Dried fruits
  • Lentils
  • Beans
  • Avocado
  • Banana
  • Cantaloupe
  • Winter squash
  • Orange
  • Coconut
  • Tomato
  • Chicken
  • Salmon


Hypokalemia is a condition of low potassium. It does not only occur due to a diet poor in potassium. Several other factors also contribute to it, like loss of fluid, medications, or any underlying health condition.

The signs and symptoms of low potassium may vary – however, common symptoms include weakness, numbness in legs and arms, high BP, digestive problems (constipation and bloating), and breathing difficulties.

If you are experiencing any signs and symptoms of low potassium, it is good to talk to your doctor.

Do not take supplements or any medication on your own. Always consult your doctor to make any dietary adjustments or take medication because excessive intake of potassium is also fatal. It may lead to several other problems, including serious heart conditions.

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