Hypokalemia is a condition where the body’s blood potassium levels are far too low. Potassium is a significant electrolyte for nerve and muscle cell functioning, especially for the heart’s muscle cells. The kidneys control the potassium levels, allowing for higher levels of potassium to exit the body through sweat or urine. Mild hypokalemia often does not cause symptoms. However, in certain cases, very low potassium levels can cause an abnormal heartbeat and severe muscle weakness.
Symptoms of Hypokalemia
Mild hypokalemia is a condition which does not often show any signs or symptoms. Most of the time, symptoms do not appear until the body’s potassium levels drop extremely low. If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, it’s critical to contact a doctor:
- Muscle cramping
- Heart palpitations
Individuals that have severe hypokalemia and are experiencing symptoms may need to be hospitalized. They may also require heart monitoring to ensure the heart rhythm is optimal. Treating hypokalemia is often a multi-step approach based on three methods:
- Remove the cause resulting in low potassium
- Restore potassium levels
- Monitor potassium levels post-hospital stay and post treatment
Unfortunately, about 20% of people in hospitals may develop hypokalemia. However, 1% of adults that do not experience a hospital stay will also have this condition. Maintaining a diet that is very rich in potassium can prevent and treat extremely low blood potassium.