Keep on top of hypokalemia with these simple tips

Hypokalemia may sound a bit nasty, but you may have it and not even know.

Hypokalemia is how the medical world describes low levels of potassium.

Mild cases you may not even notice, but serious hypokalemia can endanger your life.

Read: A varied diet leads to a healthier life

But first, why do we need potassium? Potassium is vital for muscle, nerve and cell function and is particularly important for the heart as it keeps blood pressure from becoming too high.

It’s usually caused by fluids being flushed from the body by vomiting, diarrhoea, kidneys not working properly or medications such as diuretics or even steroids.

However, other causes include alcohol abuse, excessive sweating, some antibiotics, magnesium deficiency, taking laxatives over a long time and some asthma medications.

Read: Subtle ways your body is telling you to change your diet

According to, if the problem is temporary, or you are only slightly hypokalemic, you might not even notice. But once potassium levels fall below a certain level you may experience fatigue, muscle cramping, weakness, constipation, abnormal heart rhythms called arrhythmia and elevated blood pressure.

In severe cases it may even cause paralysis, muscle tissue breakdown, respiratory failure and mental health issues such as psychosis.

Hypokalemia can be diagnosed through a blood or urine test, or via an abnormal electrocardiogram. Women tend to get hypokalemia more often than men.

Mild cases can be remedied by a change of diet, oral supplements, treating symptoms such as diarrhoea or stopping certain medications, but serious cases may require admission to hospital.

Read: Will a plant-based diet help you live longer?

Extremely mild cases can be treated by increasing potassium-rich food in your diet. Such foods include dried fruits, bananas, oranges, beans, lentils, avocados, spinach and red meats.

More serious cases may require an oral supplement and treatment of the symptoms, and very serious cases may need an IV injection.

However, medical supervision is highly recommended, even if you think you can fix it with a change of diet, as a doctor can tweak any medications or diagnose any underlying problems.

Have you been diagnosed with hypokalemia? How was it treated? Why not share your experience in the comments section below?

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Jan Fisher
Jan Fisher
Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.
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