Hypokalemia is the medical term for lower-than-normal potassium in the body. It has a variety of causes, and often appears as a side effect to illness that involves severe fluid loss. In most cases, mild hypokalemia can be cured with improvement to diet, but severe cases may require intravenous medication to restore the body's potassium levels to normal.
Potassium is one of the most important substances in your body. By helping to regulate muscle and nerve activity, it keeps your skeleton and muscles healthy and aids in recovery after physical stress. In a healthy person, you should receive most or all of the potassium your body needs through the consumption of healthy foods, primarily leafy green vegetables such as spinach, pineapple, bananas, avocados and even milk. If you are suffering from this condition and have not had a recent illness or taken a diuretic medication, the most likely reason is improper diet.
When fluid is lost in higher than usual quantities, such as through vomiting or diarrhea, many necessary nutrients are flushed out of the body. Post-surgical patients and those who have suffered an illness may be susceptible to hypokalemia. Certain antibiotics may also be a cause of the condition, be sure to check possible side effects of any prescription drugs you are taking to see if they are a possible cause.
Additionally, certain inherited genetic conditions may pre-dispose you for a low potassium level. If the problem is chronic, potassium supplements may be used to decrease your chances of hypokalemia. Cushing's Syndrome and Bartter Syndrome have both been suggested as possible genetic contributors of the condition.
In mild cases, symptoms of the condition are usually mild and difficult to diagnose. Patients may experience muscle fatigue or low control of muscle abilities, or may develop muscular tics. In severe cases, people with this condition may experience paralysis, a loss of reflexes, and respiratory failure. If you suspect you are suffering from severe hypokalemia, see a doctor at once, as the condition may cause critical medical issues.
For severe cases, a saline solution is often given to patients intravenously, quickly boosting their potassium levels. Long-term treatment is rarely necessary beyond possible supplements and an improved, potassium-rich diet. If the condition is caused by a necessary diuretic medicine, your doctor may be able to switch you to one that spares potassium in the body. While this condition is generally mild, life-threatening complications do exist, and any sign of persistent low potassium should be treated seriously.