John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Low potassium levels (hypokalemia), can cause weakness as cellular processes are impaired.
Potassium is a mineral (electrolyte) in the
body. Almost 98% of potassium is found inside the cells. Small changes in the
level of potassium that is present outside the cells can have severe effects on
the heart, nerves, and muscles.
Potassium is important to maintain several bodily functions:
Muscles need potassium to contract.
The heart muscle needs potassium to beat properly and regulate blood pressure.
The kidney is the main organ that controls the balance of potassium by
removing excess potassium into the urine.
When potassium levels are low (hypokalemia), you can become weak as cellular processes are impaired.
The normal potassium level is 3.5-5.0 mEq/L (mEq/L stand for
milliequivalents per liter of blood and this is a measure used to evaluate the level). Low potassium is defined as a potassium level below 3.5 mEq/L.
Almost one out of five people hospitalized in the United States has a low
People with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia, patients
with AIDS, alcoholics, and those who have had bariatric surgery have a higher
incidence of hypokalemia than others.