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What can cause low potassium levels in the body?

A:

Quick Answer

According to the National Institutes of Health, some causes of low potassium levels in the body are diarrhea, vomiting, antibiotics, overuse of laxatives, kidney disease, diuretics, low magnesium levels and sweating. WebMD explains that dehydration is an overarching cause.

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Full Answer

Hypokalemia is the official name for low potassium levels, and people usually get potassium through food. The National Institutes of Health says that small decreases usually do not cause symptoms, or symptoms are mild and include constipation and muscle spasms. Larger drops in potassium can cause a slow or stopped heartbeat. Blood tests can check potassium levels. WebMD also says that an electrocardiogram can verify low potassium levels.

WebMD suggests that people who have low potassium avoid prolonged and hard physical work, as sweating leads to more water loss. They should also stop taking any over-the-counter medications or supplements that may be causing the symptoms but only stop taking prescription medicines after consulting a doctor. Foods such as bananas, tomatoes, melons and peaches can help prevent potassium levels from dropping. The National Institutes of Health also recommends avocados, cooked lean beef, milk and other items.

Medical care for low potassium levels may entail IV drips, pills and cardiac monitors in more severe cases, according to WebMD. In milder cases, potassium pills may suffice.

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