Symptoms and Signs of Low Potassium (Hypokalemia)

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Medically Reviewed on 3/25/2022

Doctor's Notes on Low Potassium (Hypokalemia)

Hypokalemia is a condition in which the blood level of potassium is abnormally low. Potassium is important for a number of body functions, and small variations in potassium levels can have serious effects on the body. Nerve and muscle cells, including those in the heart, are particularly vulnerable to changes in potassium levels.

The most common cause of low potassium levels is not a decrease in intake but rather an excessive loss of potassium due to vomitingdiarrhea, laxative use, or certain surgical procedures to remove part of the intestines. Other causes include excessive loss of potassium from the kidneys and loss due to certain medications.

Symptoms associated with hypokalemia may include:

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.

What Is the Treatment for Swollen Low Potassium?

Potassium supplements are the main treatment for low potassium levels. Patients may be encouraged to consume foods high in potassium, such as bananas, broccoli, chicken, mushrooms, nuts, spinach, and tomatoes.

In severe cases of potassium deficiency, potassium may be given intravenously as an addition to other intravenous fluid infusions. If there is an underlying disease that is causing low levels of potassium, that condition must be treated as well.

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