Potassium is an essential nutrient, required by the body for a variety of fundamental processes. Individuals deficient in potassium may experience a wide range of symptoms, several of which may be life-threatening. Having a low potassium level is also known as hypokalemia.
Doctors diagnose an individual as having a potassium deficiency when their potassium levels are lower than 3.6 mmol per liter. If a person’s potassium levels fall below 2.5 mmol per liter, they would be diagnosed as having severe hypokalemia, a life-threatening condition.
There are eight main symptoms associated with hypokalemia.
- Unexplained fatigue
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle paralysis
- Breathing problems
- Irregular heart rhythms
- Increased urination
- High blood pressure
Generally speaking, potassium plays an essential role in relaying messages from the brain to the muscles of the body and in regulating muscle contractions. Consequently, potassium deficiency can affect the entire range of muscles in the body. This role of potassium is the cause of many of the symptoms listed above.
For example, when the muscles of the intestines are adversely affected, the digestion of food can be slowed or disrupted, causing gastrointestinal complaints.
When the muscles of other parts of the body are not functioning properly, it can lead to generalized muscle weakness, cramping, and pain. And if an individual’s potassium levels fall too low, the disruption to the proper regulation of their muscle contractions can lead to complete muscle paralysis.
Similarly, since breathing uses numerous muscles surrounding the diaphragm, low potassium levels can adversely affect an individual’s ability to breathe properly.
Moreover, the heart is a muscle, and low potassium levels can lead to heart problems, including irregular heart rhythms.
Most of the symptoms mentioned above can and will cause fatigue.
A different role played by potassium is its ability to help balance sodium levels in the body. It is well known that high sodium levels are associated with high blood pressure. Consequently, potassium deficiency is a common cause of high blood pressure.
Finally, a potassium deficiency can disrupt the kidneys’ ability to balance fluid and electrolyte levels in the blood stream. This will lead to frequent urination, an attempt by the body to try to balance the body’s fluid levels.
Individuals experiencing any of the symptoms listed above should see their doctor and have their potassium levels checked. In most cases, a simple potassium supplement can relieve one’s symptoms and restore their vitality.
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