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What are the dangers of low potassium in the bloodstream?

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Quick Answer

Low potassium in the bloodstream, known as hypokalemia, can be fatal, according to Mayo Clinic. People with very low potassium blood levels must seek medical attention immediately.

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Full Answer

People with a history of heart disease are at risk for arrhythmias, which are irregular or abnormal heartbeats, if their potassium blood levels fall below the normal range of 3.6 to 5.2 millimoles per liter. Low potassium levels can also lead to muscle weakness, cramping, twitching or even paralysis, reports Merck Manuals. Low levels of potassium may also affect the nervous system, states Chemocare.com, while WebMD affirms that low potassium levels may affect blood pressure.

Symptoms of hypokalemia are sometimes unclear and, besides muscle or heart issues, may include constipation, queasiness and throwing up, bloating, dehydration, urgent or frequent urination, and low blood pressure. Some psychological symptoms, such as depression, confusion and hallucinations, could indicate low blood potassium levels. Hypokalemia is a treatable condition, but WebMD cautions that its causes must be diagnosed by a medical professional to avoid recurrence. Anorexia, bulimia, AIDS sufferers and people who have had bariatric surgery are at higher risk for developing hypokalemia. Taking certain medications, such as diuretics to relieve bloating, may also lead to low blood potassium levels. Diet is almost never a direct cause of hypokalemia, because many foods naturally contain potassium.

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