Symptoms and Signs of Low Potassium (Hypokalemia)

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Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2019

Doctor's Notes on Low Potassium (Hypokalemia)

Hypokalemia is the situation in which the blood level of potassium is abnormally low. Potassium is important for a number of body functions, and small variations in the blood level of potassium can have serious effects on the body. Nerve and muscle cells, including those in the heart, are particularly vulnerable to changes in normal potassium levels. The most common reason for low potassium levels is not a decrease in intake but rather and excessive loss of potassium through vomiting, diarrhea, laxative use, and following certain surgical procedures to remove part of the intestines. Excessive loss of potassium from the kidneys and loss due to certain medications are other reasons for hypokalemia.

Symptoms that can be associated with hypokalemia can include muscle aches, muscle weakness, or muscle cramps. Irregular heartbeats (palpitations) may also occur. Psychological symptoms like delirium, hallucinations, depression, or psychosis may accompany severe hypokalemia. In extreme cases, life-threatening complications such as cardiac arrhythmias or circulatory collapse may develop.

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.