Potassium Deficiency: Symptoms, Causes & Tips

How does potassium deficiency arise? Potassium  is an important mineral that plays an important role in the body’s fluid balance and the transmission of electrical impulses to nerve and muscle cells. The potassium level is precisely regulated by the body. The required amount of potassium is drawn from the diet and what is in excess is simply excreted. For various reasons, a  lack of potassium  in the blood can still occur, which can sometimes even be life-threatening. Read here how to recognize the symptoms and signs of a deficiency, which causes can lie behind it and what to do if the potassium value is too low.

Causes of potassium deficiency

A potassium deficiency (potassium deficit, hypokalemia) occurs when the potassium level in the blood is too low. There can be different reasons:

  • insufficient intake of potassium from food
  • an excessive loss of potassium
  • a redistribution within the body

As a rule, a normal diet ensures an adequate supply of potassium in the body, since potassium is contained in many foods. In the case of gastrointestinal complaints with severe vomiting or  diarrhea , fasting and taking laxatives or diuretics (water tablets or water tablets) over a longer period of time, however, a  potassium deficiency in the blood  can occur. Dehydration tablets in particular are a common cause as they promote flushing out via the kidneys and urine. But other medications, such as corticosteroids or certain  antibiotics , can also increase potassium excretion.

Excessive salt consumption, the consumption of too much liquorice and alcohol abuse, heavy sweating, magnesium deficiency and insufficient fluid intake can also cause the potassium level in the body to drop. Therefore, athletes, women going through the menopause (due to  hot flashes  and sweating), older people and people with bulimia are particularly often affected by potassium deficiency.

In addition, various  diseases  can be the cause of a potassium deficiency. These include hormone disorders such as Cushing’s syndrome or hyperaldosteronism (Conn’s syndrome),  fistulas  in the intestine or acute kidney failure. An alkalosis can lead to a redistribution of potassium in the body due to the increase in blood pH, which then gets from the blood serum into the interior of the cells. But stress or the administration of insulin can also cause such a redistribution.

When is a potassium deficiency present?

One speaks of a potassium deficiency in adults from a  blood value below 3.6 mmol/l  (millimoles per liter) in the serum, which can be determined by a blood test. Potassium deficiency symptoms only occur when there is a significant deficiency: severe hypokalemia is present if the value is  less than 2.5 mmol/l  .

Potassium deficiency: symptoms and signs

The signs of potassium deficiency in women are the same as in men. A lack of potassium in the body is manifested by fairly  general symptoms  such as:

  • fatigue and exhaustion
  • headache
  • dizziness and visual disturbances
  • nausea  and loss of appetite
  • dark circles under the eyes

More noticeable symptoms  are:

The most important functions of potassium in the body are the regulation of fluid balance, blood pressure and the gastrointestinal tract, and involvement in muscle and nerve function. If there are problems in these areas, this can indicate a potassium deficiency. Possible consequences for the psyche are also confusion, nervousness, apathy or anxiety.

It becomes dangerous  when the lack of potassium has consequences for the function of the heart muscle and thus leads to  cardiac arrhythmia  or ventricular fibrillation. Then hypokalemia can even be fatal. Changes in the ECG can indicate a potassium deficiency.

Compensate for potassium deficiency: what to eat?

In order to be able to compensate for a slight potassium deficiency, it usually does not require much effort. Those affected should preferably  eat foods high in potassium  , such as whole grain products, dried fruit,  avocados , bananas, potatoes and  nuts  , in order to increase the potassium level in the body. Read here which foods contain a lot of potassium.

An easy way to get more potassium is to boil potatoes or legumes for a long time. Potassium is water soluble and therefore remains in the cooking water. This can be saved after cooking and later used as the basis for a soup or sauce – and at the same time correct the potassium deficiency.

What to do if you have a severe potassium deficiency?

Potassium supplements should only be taken on medical advice. Because tablets and other dietary supplements can quickly lead to an accidental overdose, which can also have serious health consequences. Potassium salts (potassium chloride), which can also be administered intravenously, are medicines to correct a severe potassium deficiency.

In any case, the cause should be determined and treated – often this is enough to remedy the potassium deficiency.

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