Q:

What happens when your potassium is low?

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Quick Answer

Low potassium, also called hypokalemia, usually does not cause symptoms but sometimes leads to heart rhythm problems, palpitations, constipation, fatigue and muscle spasms, according to MedlinePlus. Very low potassium levels may cause slow heart rate, lightheadedness, dizziness or loss of consciousness. In severe cases of hypokalemia, the heart may stop.

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Full Answer

Potassium is a mineral that helps the body's cells maintain normal function, notes MedlinePlus. Potassium enters the body through food, and the kidneys help maintain normal levels by excreting excess potassium in the urine. Low potassium, which is diagnosed through a blood test, is commonly caused by antibiotic use, diarrhea, vomiting, excessive laxative use and chronic kidney disease. Eating disorders, excessive sweating, low magnesium levels and diuretic use may also lead to hypokalemia.

Mild hypokalemia is usually treated with potassium pills, while more severe cases sometimes require intravenous potassium, according to MedlinePlus. Patients with low potassium as a result of diuretic use may be switched to a potassium-sparing diuretic. Eating foods rich in potassium, such as avocados, bananas, milk, oranges and spinach, is also beneficial in treating and preventing hypokalemia. With appropriate treatment and regular potassium intake, most patients can easily restore their potassium levels to normal without experiencing complications.

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