What Are the Effects of Low Potassium on the Body?


Quick Answer

Potassium levels below 3.5 millimoles per liter can lead to weakness, tiredness, abdominal cramping, tingling and palpitations, according to WebMD. A very low potassium level below 2.5 millimoles per liter is very dangerous and requires medical attention, states Mayo Clinic.

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Full Answer

Symptoms of low potassium are usually mild, explains WebMD. Often patients do not experience symptoms and do not find out they have low potassium levels until they have a blood test or electrocardiogram. There are many possible causes of low potassium levels, including dehydration, diarrhea, laxative abuse and low dietary intake of potassium. Some medications also reduce the amount of potassium in the body.

Patients who have low potassium levels may need to change to different medications or seek treatment for an underlying medical condition that's contributing to the problem, according to Mayo Clinic. Patients should not begin taking potassium supplements without contacting their physician first, as doing so addresses only the potassium level and not the underlying cause.

Those with low potassium levels are advised to avoid long, strenuous physical activity, since this depletes the body of potassium, according to WebMD. Patients with mild-to-moderate potassium deficiencies are often treated with pill or liquid forms of potassium, whereas those with very low, life-threatening potassium levels are generally given IV potassium to increase levels promptly. Consuming foods high in potassium, such bananas and tomatoes, may be suggested for patients who are prone to low potassium levels.

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