Low Potassium - Symptoms

The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Low Potassium (Hypokalemia).
What were the symptoms of your low potassium (hypokalemia)?
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See what others are saying

Published: November 30

I became ill over a 24-day period with what an inept physician told me was a stomach flu that turned out to be hypokalemia. I was 42 years of age. First, after one week of feeling sick, my legs became very weak as my blood pressure was fairly low. The second week, I thought I was getting better because I was able to eat and keep down fluids. In the third week, I got much worse. I didn't realize it then but I lost touch with reality to a point. I had been falling when getting up during the night to use the washroom. It would take me up to two hours of trying to get myself back on my feet and it didn't occur to me that this was highly abnormal. I just thought, 'wow, I must be tired!' When speaking to friends the following day, I didn't even think to tell them about what had happened the prior night. This became a nightly occurrence; falling and taking hours to get back up. I was becoming more out of touch with my condition and was much weaker each day. A friend I spoke to every day began to ask me to go the emergency room, but I didn't think it was that bad. On night 24, I got up and in my mind, I needed to count the number of hairpins I had! I kept losing count and it became harder to keep standing. I ended up falling to the floor and in my numerous attempts to get up, I pulled down a piece of fabric covering my night-stand and with it came three glasses of beverages which I was going to try to drink that night. The glass shattered all over the floor and I kept trying to get up on the broken glass! I was impervious to pain and didn't realize my hands, legs, and feet were cut up and bleeding or perhaps I didn't care. At some point, I gave up and fell asleep on the broken glass on the floor. By 2:30 the next afternoon, I was still on the floor. I was going to call for help but didn't have the strength to get up, unlock my apartment door and take the chain lock off the door so somebody could get in. After another 3 hours and falling asleep, I was now on the floor right beside my apartment door. I jolted awake and I figured I would just need to get my neighbor to come to my place and help. I had a few seconds of strength to hoist myself up enough to grab onto the door handle and pull myself up. I very quickly unlocked the door, took off the chain lock, and then I fell back to the floor. Using a caterpillar type of motion, I slid on my back to the telephone, pulled it to the floor and luckily remembered my speed dial. My neighbor finally convinced me to go to the hospital and called an ambulance, and when I arrived, my friends, who followed me there, were told that I was much too ill to be seen. I barely remember them doing EKGs over and over again, being hooked up to some sort of heart machine and hours later, I was admitted to the heart unit. The physician assigned to me told me very early in the morning that my potassium had 'bottomed out' and that I had no vitamins in my blood. For the first 10 days, I couldn't speak properly, it was all jumbled, I couldn't brush my hair, too confused to punch in a phone number on the phone in my room, couldn't pour my own juice in a glass because I kept missing the glass and spilling juice all over, and so weak, I was unable to move or get up. The friends who saw me told me that my catheter bag that held my urine was the color of Coca-Cola. I had ultrasounds a few times on my kidneys but barely remember them because I was asleep and still much too weak to move. I had to learn how to eat all over again and how to dress myself too. I was released from the hospital still very confused but I was able to make it the rest of the way. It took another 6 to 9 months before I felt fully recovered. I hope you remember this if you ever have these symptoms. You may ‘think' that falling and taking two hours to get back up again is a minor weakness or an incident from being too tired, but please, call an ambulance! Your life is at risk..

Published: November 07

I had been experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) issues and every once in a while, after eating bread, I would have a day of loose stools. I stopped eating bread but the GI issues continued (acid reflux, fullness after eating small amounts). Family has a history of gallstones but I went to the doctor and had that ruled out and was prescribed Prilosec. A month or so after GI issues started, I began to experience calf cramps (not unusual since I run) and then hamstring cramps, which I had never experienced until then. I started feeling more tired and would take naps when I got home from work. Every once in a while I would feel slightly nauseous but I thought it was because of all of the cruciferous vegetables I'd added to my diet recently. One day at work, I was extremely thirsty and drank smoothies, water, and juices but couldn't quench the thirst. I felt a weird hot flash, followed by dizziness and nausea (kind of like when you get the flu) but I knew it was way more serious. I had someone call an ambulance and my beats per minute (BPM) were 220 by the time the emergency medical technicians (EMTs) arrived. It felt like I was having a panic attack but I knew it wasn't. I got to the emergency room (ER) and about five minutes later, had a torsades de pointes episode and flat lined. The fabulous ER team was able to resuscitate me after 15 minutes so there was, luckily, no permanent damage. It turns out my potassium was 2.3 and my magnesium was also low, which the doctors believe caused the Torsades. We cannot figure out why my potassium was so low and I now take 20 mEq of potassium daily as well as have blood tests every week to monitor my levels. My potassium now hovers around 4.3 and I've never felt better. I also eat a ton of spinach, baked potatoes and salmon, all of which are much higher in potassium than bananas..