Hypokalemia, also known as potassium deficiency, is one of the most common water-electrolyte imbalances in humans. Despite this, many of us are unaware of the symptoms and warning signs of potassium deficiency. Part of this is because mild hypokalemia tend to not produce any pronounced symptoms or just produce vague symptoms that are easy to mistake for something else.
By learning more about the symptoms of hypokalemia, we can be more observant and take steps to prevent and mitigate hypokalemia before it turns into a serious problem that requires a trip to the emergency room.
Important: For us to remain healthy, a proper balance between potassium and sodium must be maintained in the body.
Examples of symptoms of hypokalemia
Early warning signs: Symptoms that can occur even if the hypokalemia isn’t severe
- Leg cramps
- Muscle pain in various parts of the body
- Abnormal heart rhythm (usually a slower than normal heart beat)
Symptoms of severe hypokalemia
- Severe muscle weakness
- Intermittent muscle spasms
- Tingling, itchiness and/or numbness – especially in the legs, feet, hands and arms
- Painful obstruction of the gut
- Respiratory failure
- Cardiac arrest
Be especially vigilant when….
There are some situations in which we are more likely to suffer from hypokalemia, and there are also medical conditions that can increase an individual’s risk of developing hypokalemia. Learn the facts so that you can keep a watchful eye on yourself as well as on those around you who might be at risk.
Certain health conditioning can make a person more at risk for developing hypokalemia.
Examples: diarrhoea, diabetes insipidus, hyperaldosteronism, hypomagnesemia
Certain medical treatments can increase the risk of hypokalemia.
Examples: dialysis, furosemide medicine
Hypokalemia is a condition where the level of potassium (K+) in the blood serum is below the normal range. It’s called hypokalemia since the scientific name for potassium is kalium.
Normal range for potassium in blood serum: between 3.5 mmol/L and 5.0 mmol/L.
Deficient: Below 3.5 mmol/L
Extremely deficient: Below 2.5 mmol/L
About potassium in the human body
Potassium is required for many important processes in the human body.
Potassium is present in all bodily fluids.
Without potassium, the body can not:
- regulate its fluid balance
- control the electrical activity of the muscles, including the heart