Potassium is an essential mineral, attainable through diet, that the body uses for a wide range of functions including supporting digestion and regulating the heart rhythm. Eating good sources of potassium, such as bananas, kiwis, carrots, lean meat, and beans, can help maintain normal potassium levels in healthy people.
Potassium is an electrolyte, a mineral that controls electrical impulses throughout the body, including the ones necessary for nerve sensitivity and muscle contractions. One of the first symptoms of potassium deficiency may be weakness. One might feel as though their muscles are not working properly or their reflexes have slowed.
Potassium also aids in the digestive process by stimulating the muscle contractions that move food through the digestive tract. Therefore, low potassium can lead to constipation and other digestion issues. This symptom usually manifests as a feeling of fullness or discomfort in the lower abdomen and can interfere with regular bowel movements. If potassium is the cause of this issue, increasing consumption of potassium-rich foods can help. For most adults, experts recommend 4,700 milligrams of potassium daily.
Similar to weakness, fatigue can manifest with a potassium deficiency. A person may feel drowsy or inexplicably exhausted during the day, despite getting enough sleep at night. Fatigue can interfere with the day’s routine and make it difficult to function. Too little potassium can affect the efficiency with which the body uses nutrients, which is what leads to this symptom.
Anyone experiencing unexplained heart abnormalities should see a physician right away for a proper diagnosis. If lack of potassium causes an irregular heartbeat, the deficiency is likely quite severe. The heart is a muscular organ; when muscle contractions become irregular, as can happen with low potassium, the heart can suffer. Abnormal heart rhythm can be very dangerous if left untreated.
High Blood Pressure
Another common symptom of potassium deficiency is high blood pressure. Potassium helps keep blood pressure low by neutralizing the effect of sodium. Consuming potassium releases sodium during urination, allowing blood pressure to remain low. Too little potassium interrupts this critical safety mechanism, and sodium can remain in the body, causing blood pressure to rise. When potassium is very low it can also cause a drop in blood pressure, especially if there are irregularities in heart rhythm due to the deficiency.
If a person is drinking sufficient water but still feels thirsty more often than usual, this could indicate a potassium deficiency. A low potassium level makes it harder for the kidneys to concentrate urine. This can lead to increased urination and fluid loss. In turn, the loss of fluid causes excessive thirst.
Muscle Spasms and Cramps
Low potassium can cause muscle spasms and cramps. When there’s a potassium deficiency, potassium can’t leave the muscle cell as easily. This causes a sustained muscle contraction called a spasm. Athletes who experience injuries like hamstring tightness or back spasms are often encouraged to rest and consume electrolytes. Since the body does not naturally create potassium, it is necessary to absorb it and other electrolytes to prevent these types of cramps.
Severe potassium deficiency can result in dizziness or lightheadedness, as well as double or blurry vision. Sudden spikes in blood pressure, as well as complications resulting from a lack of electrolytes, can cause this the sensation of being lightheaded, dizzy, or off balance. Consuming more potassium can help to prevent these dizzy spells.
Nausea and Vomiting
Because potassium aids in digestion, too little of it can lead to an upset stomach or general feeling of sickness. Constipation and unwanted muscle contractions can also lead to nausea and vomiting. Consuming potassium-rich foods at the first sign of nausea may help alleviate this symptom. Many physicians recommend drinking an electrolyte-packed beverage to replenish these nutrients, including potassium. If nausea and vomiting develop due to potassium imbalances, they indicate a serious deficiency.
Low potassium can lead to frequent urination. Also, taking certain medications such as diuretics can cause frequent urination and loss of potassium through the urine. Urination voids the body not only of the unwanted waste but also of potassium, so even people who eat enough potassium-rich foods might not be utilizing all the nutrients if they are running to the bathroom more often than usual