What is Potassium
Potassium is a mineral that your body needs to work properly. It is a type of electrolyte that plays a significant role in the regulation of fluid volume and maintenance of the water-electrolyte balance 1). Electrolytes are minerals in your body that have an electric charge. They are in your blood, urine and body fluids. Maintaining the right balance of electrolytes helps your body’s blood chemistry, muscle action and other processes. Sodium, calcium, potassium, chlorine, phosphate and magnesium are all electrolytes 2). You get them from the foods you eat and the fluids you drink. Levels of electrolytes in your body can become too low or too high. That can happen when the amount of water in your body changes, causing dehydration or overhydration.
Levels of electrolytes in your body can become too low or too high. That can happen when the amount of water in your body changes, causing dehydration or overhydration. Causes include some medicines, vomiting, diarrhea, sweating or kidney problems. Problems most often occur with levels of sodium, potassium or calcium. Before processed foods became widely available, humans consumed much more potassium than sodium. Today, we get almost twice as much sodium as potassium 3).
Potassium balance is crucial for regulating the excitability of nerves and muscles and so critical for regulating contractility of cardiac (heart) muscle. Although the most important changes seen in the presence of deranged potassium are cardiac, smooth muscle is also affected with increasing muscle weakness, a feature of both hyperkalaemia (high blood potassium) and hypokalaemia (low blood potassium) 4).
The kidneys are primarily responsible for maintaining your body’s total potassium content by balancing potassium intake with potassium excretion. If your intake of potassium far outweighs your kidneys’ ability to remove it, or if your kidney function decreases, there can be too much potassium and hyperkalemia may occur 5).
Potassium and sodium concentrations play a crucial role in electric signal functioning of the heart’s middle thick muscle layer, known as the myocardium. An above normal level of potassium can interfere with proper electric signals in that muscle layer and lead to different types of heart arrhythmias.
Potassium is a very important mineral for the human body. Most individuals can replace needed potassium through food consumption without the need for supplements or specially formulated products 6), 7), 8).
Your body needs potassium to:
- Build proteins
- Break down and use carbohydrates
- Build muscle
- Maintain normal body growth
- Control the electrical activity of the heart
- Control the acid-base balance
Reduced potassium consumption has been associated with hypertension and cardiovascular diseases, and appropriate consumption levels could be protective
against these conditions 9). A recent meta-analysis including 11 cohort studies reported an inverse association between potassium intake and risk of stroke 10). Additionally, two meta-analyses of trials comparing increased potassium to lower potassium intake found that increased potassium intake lowers blood pressure
11), 12). These results were further supported by a systematic review without a meta-analysis, which concluded
that increased potassium intake results in decreased blood pressure in adults 13). Thus, a public health intervention aimed at increasing potassium intake from food could be a cost-effective strategy to reduce the burden of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. Moreover, increasing potassium consumption from food in the population is safe; in individuals without renal impairment caused by medical conditions or drug therapy, the body is able to efficiently adapt and excrete excess potassium via the urine when consumption 14).
The American Heart Association recommended potassium intake for an average adult is 4,700 milligrams (mg) per day. Most of us aren’t getting nearly that much. On average, adult males eat almost 3,200 mg/day, and adult females eat about 2,400 mg/day 15). Remember that potassium is only part of an overall heart-healthy eating pattern. Other dietary factors that may affect blood pressure include amount and type of dietary fat; cholesterol; protein, sugar and fiber; calcium and magnesium, and of course, sodium.
For example, the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet study found that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fat-free or low-fat (1 percent) milk and milk products, whole-grain foods, fish, poultry, beans, seeds and unsalted nuts reduced blood pressure compared to a typical American diet. The DASH eating plan also had less sodium; sweets, added sugars and sugar-containing beverages; saturated and trans fats; and red meats than the typical American diet.
People with kidney problems, especially those on dialysis, should not eat too many potassium-rich foods. The health care provider will recommend a special diet.
Mechanism of Action of Potassium
Potassium is the major cation (positive ion) inside animal cells, while sodium is the major cation outside animal cells. The concentration differences of these charged particles causes a difference in electric potential between the inside and outside of cells, known as the membrane potential. The balance between potassium and sodium is maintained by ion pumps in the cell membrane. The cell membrane potential created by potassium and sodium ions allows the cell generate an action potential–a “spike” of electrical discharge. The ability of cells to produce electrical discharge is critical for body functions such as neurotransmission, muscle contraction, and heart function. Potassium is also an essential mineral needed to regulate water balance, blood pressure and levels of acidity 16). The more potassium you eat, the more sodium you pass out of the body through urine. Increased potassium intake has no adverse effect on blood lipid concentration, catecholamine concentrations, or renal function in apparently healthy adults without impaired renal handling of potassium 17). The largest benefit was detected when sodium intake was more than 4 g/day, which is the intake of most populations globally 18), so increased potassium intake should benefit most people in most countries. However, the authors also found a statistically significant decrease in blood pressure with increased potassium when sodium intake was 2-4 g/day. Therefore, increased potassium can continue to be beneficial in terms of blood pressure even as individuals and populations decrease their sodium intake. Studies examining both nutrients simultaneously support this concept, showing an increased benefit with simultaneous reduction in sodium and increase in potassium compared with changes in one nutrient individually 19), 20).
Potassium also helps relax blood vessel walls, which helps lower blood pressure 21).
World Health Organization recommends an increase in potassium intake from food to reduce blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and coronary heart disease in adults. World Health Organization suggests a potassium intake of at least 90 mmol/day (3510 mg/day) for adults (conditional recommendation) 22).
Physiologically, potassium exists as an ion in the body. Potassium (K+) is a positively charged electrolyte, cation, which is present throughout the body in both intracellular and extracellular fluids. The majority of body potassium, > 90%, are intracellular. It moves freely from intracellular fluid (ICF) to extracellular fluid (ECF) and vice versa when adenosine triphosphate (ATP) increases the permeability of the cell membrane. It is mainly replaced inside or outside the cells by another cation, sodium (Na+). The movement of potassium into or out of the cells is linked to certain body hormones and also to certain physiological states. Standard laboratory tests measure ECF potassium. Potassium enters the body rapidly during food ingestion. Insulin is produced when a meal is eaten; this causes the temporary movement of potassium from ECF to ICF. Over the ensuing hours, the kidneys excrete the ingested potassium and homeostasis is returned. In the critically ill patient, suffering from hyperkalaemia, this mechanism can be manipulated beneficially by administering high concentration (50%) intravenous glucose. Insulin can be added to the glucose, but glucose alone will stimulate insulin production and cause movement of potassium from ECF to ICF. The stimulation of alpha receptors causes increased movement of potassium from ICF to ECF. A noradrenaline infusion can elevate serum potassium levels. An adrenaline infusion, or elevated adrenaline levels, can lower serum potassium levels. Metabolic acidosis causes a rise in extracellular potassium levels. In this situation, excess of hydrogen ions (H+) are exchanged for intracellular potassium ions, probably as a result of the cellular response to a falling blood pH. Metabolic alkalosis causes the opposite effect, with potassium moving into the cells 23).
Foods high in Potassium
Potassium is an essential nutrient that is needed for maintenance of total body fluid volume, acid and electrolyte balance, and normal cell function 24). Many people get all the potassium they need from what they eat and drink. Many foods contain potassium. All meats (red meat and chicken) and fish such as salmon, cod, flounder, and sardines are good sources of potassium. Soy products and veggie burgers are also good sources of potassium.
Vegetables including broccoli, peas, lima beans, tomatoes, potatoes (especially their skins), sweet potatoes, and winter squash are all good sources of potassium.
Since people with high blood pressure may also be trying to lose weight, consider potassium rich foods that are low in calories and carbohydrates. Good examples include broccoli, water chestnuts, spinach, and other leafy greens. Also good—although slightly higher in carbs and calories—are butternut squash and sweet potatoes, and fruits such as cantaloupe, kiwi, and nectarines 25).
Milk, yogurt, and nuts are also excellent sources of potassium.
Other potassium-rich foods include:
- Lima beans
- Tomatoes, tomato juice and tomato sauce
- Oranges and orange juice
- Cantaloupe and honeydew melon
- Grapefruit and grapefruit juice (talk to your healthcare provider if you’re taking a cholesterol-lowering drug)
- Prunes and prune juice
- Apricots and apricot juice
- Raisins and dates
- Fat-free or low-fat (1 percent) milk
- Fat-free yogurt
People with kidney problems, especially those on dialysis, should not eat too many potassium-rich foods. The health care provider will recommend a special diet.
A low blood level of potassium is called hypokalemia. It can cause weak muscles, abnormal heart rhythms, and a slight rise in blood pressure. You may have hypokalemia if you:
- Take diuretics (water pills) to treat high blood pressure or heart failure
- Take too many laxatives
- Have severe or prolonged vomiting and diarrhea
- Have certain kidney or adrenal gland disorders
The Food and Nutrition Center of the Institute of Medicine recommends these dietary intakes for potassium, based on age:
- 0 to 6 months: 0.4 grams a day (g/day)
- 7 to 12 months: 0.7 g/day
Children and Adolescents
- 1 to 3 years: 3 g/day
- 4 to 8 years: 3.8 g/day
- 9 to 13 years: 4.5 g/day
- 14 to 18 years: 4.7 g/day
- Age 19 and older: 4.7 g/day
Women who are producing breast milk need slightly higher amounts (5.1 g/day). Ask your healthcare provider what amount is best for you.
People who are being treated for hypokalemia need potassium supplements. Your healthcare provider will develop a supplementation plan based on your specific needs.
Benefits of Potassium
- Getting more potassium and less salt may cut heart attack, stroke risk 27)
Salt is a cheap, easy way to turn on taste buds. That’s one reason why it’s in so many of the foods you eat. It’s so commonly used that most Americans consume more than double the recommended daily limit for it. The American Heart Association recommends you consume no more than 2,300 milligrams (mgs) a day of salt (sodium) and an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 mg per day for most adults 28).
- Potassium-rich foods cut stroke, death risks among older women American 29), 30)
Postmenopausal women who eat foods higher in potassium are less likely to have strokes and die than women who eat less potassium-rich foods, according to new research in the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke.
“Our findings give women another reason to eat their fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are good sources of potassium, and potassium not only lowers postmenopausal women’s risk of stroke, but also death,” said Sylvia Wassertheil-Smoller, Ph.D., study senior author and distinguished university professor emerita, department of epidemiology and population health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, New York.
Researchers studied 90,137 postmenopausal women, ages 50 to 79, for an average 11 years. They looked at how much potassium the women consumed, as well as if they had strokes, including ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes, or died during the study period. Women in the study were stroke-free at the start and their average dietary potassium intake was 2,611 mg/day. Results of this study are based on potassium from food, not supplements.
The researchers found:
- Women who ate the most potassium were 12 percent less likely to suffer stroke in general and 16 percent less likely to suffer an ischemic stroke than women who ate the least.
- Women who ate the most potassium were 10 percent less likely to die than those who ate the least.
- Among women who did not have hypertension (whose blood pressure was normal and they were not on any medications for high blood pressure), those who ate the most potassium had a 27 percent lower ischemic stroke risk and 21 percent reduced risk for all stroke types, compared to women who ate the least potassium in their daily diets.
- Among women with hypertension (whose blood pressure was high or they were taking drugs for high blood pressure), those who ate the most potassium had a lower risk of death, but potassium intake did not lower their stroke risk.
Researchers suggested that higher dietary potassium intake may be more beneficial before high blood pressure develops. They also said there was no evidence of any association between potassium intake and hemorrhagic stroke, which could be related to the low number of hemorrhagic strokes in the study.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that women eat at least 4,700 mg of potassium daily.
Only 2.8 percent of women in that study met or exceeded this level. The World Health Organization’s daily potassium recommendation for women is lower, at 3,510 mg or more. Still, only 16.6 percent of women we studied met or exceeded that.
The study findings suggest that women need to eat more potassium-rich foods. You won’t find high potassium in junk food. Some foods high in potassium include white and sweet potatoes, bananas and white beans.
While increasing potassium intake is probably a good idea for most older women, there are some people who have too much potassium in their blood, which can be dangerous to the heart. People should check with their doctor about how much potassium they should eat.
The study was observational and included only postmenopausal women.
Researchers also did not take sodium intake into consideration, so the potential importance of a balance between sodium and potassium is not among the findings.
Researchers said more studies are needed to determine whether potassium has the same effects on men and younger people.
Why Limit Salt (Sodium) ?
Because it is the body’s main source of sodium. You need a little bit of sodium to transmit nerve impulses, to contract muscle fibers, and, along with potassium, to balance fluid levels in all of your cells. But getting too much sodium and too little potassium can have a major impact on overall health. It can increase blood pressure and the risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Sodium, potassium together influence heart health 31)
A new report from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 32) suggests that this imbalance — more sodium than potassium — contributes to heart disease and premature death. Here are some foods rich in potassium and low in sodium. Note the huge differences between unprocessed foods and the processed or salted foods marked in italics. A more extensive list of potassium in foods, ranked high potassium content to low, is available from the US Department of Agriculture 33).
|Food||Amount||Potassium (mg)||Sodium (mg)||Potassium to sodium ratio|
|Banana, raw||1 medium||422||1||422:1|
|Black beans, cooked without salt||1/2 cup||305||1||305:1|
|Orange juice||3/4 cup||357||2||178:1|
|Grapefruit juice||3/4 cup||252||2||126:1|
|Peanuts, dry roasted, no salt||1 1/2 ounces||280||3||93:1|
|Peanuts, dry roasted, with salt||1 1/2 ounces||280||346||0.8:1|
|Prune juice||3/4 cup||530||8||66:1|
|Baked potato, plain, with skin||1 medium||926||17||54:1|
|Fast-food French fries||1 medium order||655||266||2.5:1|
|Peanut butter, without salt||2 tablespoons||208||5||42:1|
|Peanut butter, with salt||2 tablespoons||208||147||1.4:1|
|Brussels sprouts, steamed||1/2 cup||248||7||35:1|
|Applesauce (jar), no salt||1/2 cup||92||3||31:1|
|Applesauce (jar), with salt||1/2 cup||78||36||2.2:1|
|Oatmeal, regular||1 cup||164||9||18:1|
|Quaker’s Instant Oatmeal||1 packet||116||249||0.5:1|
|Halibut, baked||3 ounces||490||59||8:1|
|Spinach, boiled||1/2 cup||420||63||7:1|
|Salmon, baked||3 ounces||244||39||6:1|
|Salmon, canned||3 ounces/em>||311||399||0.8:1|
|V8, low-sodium||1 cup||820||140||6:1|
|V8, regular||1 cup||470||480||1:1|
|Carrots, raw||1/2 cup||205||44||5:1|
|Beet greens||1/2 cup||655||173||4:1|
|Milk, 1%||1 cup||366||107||3:1|
|Marinara sauce, prepared||1/2 cup||406||527||0.8:1|
|Pork and beans, canned||1 cup||726||1075||0.7:1|
|Fast-food cheeseburger||1 regular||444||1176||0.4:1|
|French bread||1 medium slice||82||416||0.2:1|
|Source: USDA National Nutrient Database 34)|
Three new studies in BMJ (the British Medical Journal) once again confirm the relationship between salt intake and health problems 35). The first of these studies combined information from 34 earlier studies. This technique is called meta-analysis. It showed that, over the long term, a reduction in salt intake led to a drop in systolic blood pressure (the top number of a blood pressure reading) of 4 millimeters of mercury (mmHg). There was also an average 2 mmHg drop in systolic blood pressure. Eating less salt was also linked to lower risks of heart attack, stroke and heart failure.
A second meta-analysis 36) combined information from 56 studies. Its findings were similar to the first meta-analysis: reduced salt intake reduces blood pressure and has no adverse effect on blood lipids, catecholamine levels, or renal function, and moderate quality evidence in children shows that a reduction in sodium intake reduces blood pressure. Lower sodium intake is also associated with a reduced risk of stroke and fatal coronary heart disease in adults. The totality of evidence suggests that most people will likely benefit from reducing sodium intake.
The third study 37) looked at potassium intake. Potassium is needed for many normal body functions, including heart and muscle function. In this review of 33 studies that included more than 128,000 people, consuming more potassium was linked to lower blood pressure and lower risk of stroke. High quality evidence shows that increased potassium intake reduces blood pressure in people with hypertension and has no adverse effect on blood lipid concentrations, catecholamine concentrations, or renal function in adults. Higher potassium intake was associated with a 24% lower risk of stroke (moderate quality evidence). These results suggest that increased potassium intake is potentially beneficial to most people without impaired renal handling of potassium for the prevention and control of elevated blood pressure and stroke.
Putting it into practice
Current dietary guidelines recommend that Americans get no more than 1 teaspoon of salt a day. That’s the equivalent of 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day. Those with high blood pressure or other conditions such as kidney disease or heart failure and anyone over age 50 years are urged to limit sodium to 1,500 mg a day.
Only about 10% to 20% of the salt that most people take in comes from the salt shaker at the table or in the kitchen. Most of the sodium we get is added to processed foods like canned soups and vegetables; breads, crackers, and other prepared baked goods; deli and other processed meats; chips and other snacks; and restaurant foods.
Here are some tips for limiting your salt intake:
- Know how much salt is in your diet. Pay attention to labels. Some soup labels are misleading and will have two servings per can, with a large amount of sodium in each serving.
- Avoid processed and prepared foods. These tend to have a lot of sodium. When in doubt, eat fresh food or food you have prepared yourself.
- Look for labels that say “low sodium” or “no added sodium.” But be sure to read labels carefully. These products will tend to have less salt, but can still contain a fair amount of sodium.
- Use other seasonings in place of salt. Herbs and spices, for example, can add flavor to your food.
What about potassium ? Most healthy Americans consume less than half of the recommended amount of potassium (4,700 mg per day). Getting more of this mineral may help lower blood pressure. But too much potassium can be dangerous, especially for people with kidney problems. So the right amount is critical.
It’s best to get potassium from food, especially fruits and vegetables. Green leafy vegetables, beans, and bananas have a lot of potassium. The USDA has published a list of potassium in hundreds of foods.
High Potassium (Hyperkalemia)
Hyperkalemia is the medical term that describes a potassium level in your blood that’s higher than normal 38). Potassium is a nutrient that is critical to the function of nerve and muscle cells, including those in your heart 39).
Your blood potassium level is normally 3.6 to 5.2 millimoles per liter (mmol/L) 40). Hyperkalemia is a potassium level of greater than 5.5. Patients with hyperkalemia may have a normal electrocardiogram or only subtle changes. Having a blood potassium level higher than 7.0 mmol/L can be dangerous and requires immediate treatment.
Hyperkalemia is a serious and potentially life-threatening disorder 41). It can cause:
- Muscle fatigue
- Abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias)
High potassium is usually found when your doctor has ordered blood tests to help diagnose a condition you’re already experiencing or to monitor medications you’re taking. It’s usually not discovered by chance, because in hyperkalemia often there are no symptoms.
Talk to your doctor about what your results mean. You may need to change a medication that’s affecting your potassium level, or you may need to treat another medical condition that’s causing your high potassium level 42). Treatment of high potassium is often directed at the underlying cause. In some instances, you may need emergency medications or dialysis.
If you have symptoms of hyperkalemia and have reason to think your potassium level might be high, call your doctor immediately.
Can hyperkalemia be prevented ?
Dietary changes can help prevent and treat high potassium levels. Talk to your doctor to understand any risk you might have for hyperkalemia. Your doctor may recommend foods that you may need to limit or avoid. These may include:
- asparagus, avocados, potatoes, tomatoes or tomato sauce, winter squash, pumpkin, cooked spinach
- oranges and orange juice, nectarines, kiwifruit, bananas, cantaloupe, honeydew, prunes and raisins or other dried fruit.
If you are on a low-salt diet, avoid taking salt substitutes 43).
Causes of Hyperkalemia (high potassium)
Often, a report of high blood potassium isn’t true hyperkalemia. Instead, it may be caused by the rupture of blood cells in the blood sample during or shortly after the blood draw. The ruptured cells leak their potassium into the sample. This falsely raises the amount of potassium in the blood sample, even though the potassium level in your body is actually normal. When this is suspected, a repeat blood sample is done.
The most common cause of genuinely high potassium (hyperkalemia) is related to your kidneys 44), such as:
- Acute kidney failure
- Chronic kidney disease
Other causes of hyperkalemia include:
- Addison’s disease (adrenal failure)
- Alcoholism or heavy drug use that causes rhabdomyolysis, a breakdown of muscle fibers that results in the release of potassium into the bloodstream
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
- Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs)
- Destruction of red blood cells due to severe injury or burns
- Excessive use of potassium supplements
- Type 1 diabetes
Treatment of Hyperkalemia
If your potassium level is very high, or if there are dangerous indications such as changes in an electrocardiogram, emergency treatment is needed. That may involve supplying calcium to the body through an intravenous to treat the effects on muscles and the heart or administering glucose and insulin through an intravenous to decrease potassium levels long enough to correct the cause. There are also medicines that help remove the potassium from your intestines and in some cases, a diuretic may be given.
Emergency treatment may also include kidney dialysis if kidney function is deteriorating; medication to help remove potassium from the intestines before absorption; sodium bicarbonate if acidosis is the cause; and water pills, or diuretics.
A doctor may also advise stopping or reducing potassium supplements and stopping or changing the doses of certain medicines for heart disease and high blood pressure. Always follow your health provider’s instructions about taking or stopping medicines.
For people with heart failure
There are some drugs that heart failure patients take that are associated with hyperkalemia. These are: diuretics, beta-blockers and angiotension converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE inhibitors). For patients with heart failure on these drugs, if any symptoms are experienced as above, you should tell your doctor to make sure that the symptoms are not related to hyperkalemia.
- If you need to get your potassium level down 45) :
If your potassium level is too high, you may need to cut back on certain foods (see the table). These tips can also help:
- Soak or boil vegetables and fruits to leach out some of the potassium.
- Avoid foods that list potassium or K, KCl, or K+ — chemical symbols for potassium or related compounds — as ingredients on the label.
- Stay away from salt substitutes. Many are high in potassium. Read the ingredient lists carefully and check with your doctor before using one of these preparations.
- Avoid canned, salted, pickled, corned, spiced, or smoked meat and fish.
- Avoid imitation meat products containing soy or vegetable protein.
- Limit high-potassium fruits such as bananas, citrus fruits, and avocados.
- Avoid baked potatoes and baked acorn and butternut squash.
- Don’t use vegetables or meats prepared with sweet or salted sauces.
- Avoid all types of peas and beans, which are naturally high in potassium.
|Potassium levels in common foods (source 46))|
|High potassium||Medium potassium||Low potassium||No potassium|
|Fruits and vegetables||Artichokes, avocados, bananas, broccoli, coconut, dried fruits, leafy greens, kiwis, nectarines, oranges, papayas, potatoes, prunes, spinach, tomatoes, winter squash, yams||Apples, apricots, asparagus, carrots, cherries, corn, eggplant, peaches, pears, peppers, pineapple juice, radishes||Blueberries, cauliflower, cucumbers, grapefruit, grapes, green beans, lettuce, strawberries|
|Meat and protein||Dried beans and peas, imitation bacon bits, nuts, soy products||Beef, eggs, fish, peanut butter, poultry, pork, veal|
|Dairy||Milk, yogurt||Sour cream|
|Grains and processed foods||Plain bagel, plain pasta, oatmeal, white bread, white rice||Bran muffins and cereals, corn tortillas, whole-wheat bread||Fruit punches, jelly beans, nondairy topping, nondairy creamers|
Low Potassium (Hypokalemia)
Low potassium (hypokalemia) refers to a lower than normal potassium level in your bloodstream 47). Potassium is a chemical (electrolyte) that is critical to the proper functioning of nerve and muscles cells, particularly heart muscle cells.
Normally, your blood potassium level is 3.6 to 5.2 millimoles per liter (mmol/L). A very low potassium level (less than 2.5 mmol/L) can be life-threatening and requires urgent medical attention.
Low potassium symptoms may include:
- Muscle cramps
Abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias) are the most worrisome complication of very low potassium levels, particularly in people with underlying heart disease.
In most cases, low potassium is found by a blood test that is done because of an illness, or because you are taking diuretics. It is rare for low potassium to cause isolated symptoms such as muscle cramps if you are feeling well in other respects.
Talk to your doctor about what your results mean. You may need to change a medication that’s affecting your potassium level, or you may need to treat another medical condition that’s causing your low potassium level.
Treatment of low potassium is directed at the underlying cause and may include potassium supplements. Don’t start taking potassium supplements without talking to your doctor first.
Causes of Hypokalemia (low potassium)
Low potassium (hypokalemia) has many causes. The most common cause is excessive potassium loss in urine due to prescription water or fluid pills (diuretics). Vomiting or diarrhea or both can result in excessive potassium loss from the digestive tract. Only rarely is low potassium caused by not getting enough potassium in your diet.
Causes of potassium loss leading to low potassium include:
- Chronic kidney disease
- Diabetic ketoacidosis
- Diarrhea (causing anal irritation)
- Excessive alcohol use
- Excessive laxative use
- Excessive sweating
- Folic acid deficiency
- Prescription water or fluid pills (diuretics) use
- Primary aldosteronism
- Some antibiotic use
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