Potassium is one of the essential minerals required for the proper functioning of the human body. It plays important roles such as the regulation of muscle contractions, maintenance of healthy nerve function, and regulation of fluid balance. However, despite the important roles this mineral plays, it is estimated that many people often fail to get the recommended dose of potassium.
This, inadvertently often expose many people to low potassium or potassium deficiency, which is medically known as hypokalemia. It refers to when the blood potassium level in an individual is less than the standard 3.5 mmol per litre range. It is a situation that could expose an affected person to many health consequences and can be caused by many things.
Among some of the most common causes of low blood potassium are chronic diarrhoea, malnutrition, use of medications such as insulin and diuretics, fluid loss, kidney failure, kidney disorders, kidney failure, eating disorders, excessive sweating, and low levels of magnesium in the blood. Fortunately, when a person has hypokalemia, certain symptoms would surface.
A few of the characteristic symptoms of low blood potassium are examined below:
1. Weakness and fatigue
Weakness and fatigue are two of the first symptoms of potassium deficiency and the reasons for this are not farfetched. Potassium helps in the regulation of muscle contractions, thus when its levels are low, the muscles would contract weakly. Another reason is that potassium affects how the body uses certain nutrients.
A deficiency of potassium, for example, can lead to the impairment of insulin production, which, in turn, can lead to high blood sugar levels and less available glucose. This, invariably, can lead to weakness and fatigue.
2. High blood pressure
For healthy blood pressure, there must be a balance of electrolytes in the body. However, certain foods often disrupt this balance and blood pressure often rises to unhealthy ranges as a result. Foods that are particularly high in sodium are a culprit in this regard, but such effects can be counteracted by potassium as it can help the kidney to get rid of excess sodium via urine.
However, people with low blood potassium often have high blood pressure because their kidneys often reabsorb sodium back into the bloodstream, thus causing their blood pressure to rise over time. Thus, increasing your intake of potassium can significantly help to ensure that your blood pressure stays at the healthy range.
Polyuria, which is also known as frequent urination refers to a condition in which an individual urinates more than usual. This condition often revolves around certain abnormalities in the kidneys, the two-bean shaped organs responsible for balancing the body’s fluid and electrolyte levels and removal of waste through urine.
However, when a person has low blood potassium, the kidneys of such a person may find it difficult to concentrate urine and balance the blood levels of electrolytes, thus leading to increased urination. In addition to that, the individual may also experience increased thirst, which is medically known as polydipsia.
4. Breathing difficulties
Severe cases of low blood potassium levels or potassium deficiency can also lead to breathing difficulties. This is because breathing requires the diaphragm and a host of other muscles to help the lungs inhale and exhale air.
When blood potassium levels are severely low, the lungs may not be able to expand and contract properly leading to difficulties in breathing and in some cases, can make the lungs stop working. There have been studies that established that people with hypokalemia are at a higher risk of in-hospital respiratory failure.
5. Abnormal heartbeat
One of the important roles played by potassium is the maintenance of healthy muscle contraction. It does this by its flowing in and out of heart cells, which, in turn, helps to regulate heartbeat. This explains why when potassium levels in the body are low, there could be abnormal heart rhythms known as heart arrhythmia, which could be a symptom of heart disease.
Having considered some of the symptoms of low blood potassium, it is worth stating that you should visit your doctor if you have any of the aforementioned symptoms. But away from that, diet can also play a crucial role in ensuring that you shore up your body’s level of blood potassium. While diet alone cannot help correct hypokalemia, it can still help bring certain changes.
Some of the foods with high potassium content that can help you boost your blood potassium levels include avocado, sweet potatoes, spinach, coconut water, watermelon, white beans, black beans, tomato paste, and potatoes.
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