Tuesday, 27 July 2010

The Dangers of Low Potassium Levels

The mineral potassium is an essential part of a healthy diet, as the body needs it to function and stay healthy. The body uses potassium to help build muscles, aid in the process of metabolism and maintain the proper balance of acids and bases, say the experts at the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM). People get most of their potassium from foods--like meat, fish, some fruits and many vegetables. Though potassium is essential for proper cell function, it is important to get exactly the right amount of potassium--either too much or too little can be harmful to your health. Potassium deficiency is a health condition called hypokalemia.


Hypokalemia can be very serious--even fatal. One of the most serious risks associated with potassium deficiency is paralysis, say the experts at the NLM. If that paralysis strikes major organs like the lungs or the heart, it can be a fatal complication. Cardiac arrest can result from paralysis caused by insufficient potassium.

Abnormal Heart Rhythm

Since cells can't function well without enough potassium, major organs--including the heart--can be affected. The experts at the NLM note that an abnormal heart rhythm can result from potassium deficiency. This can lead to significant heart problems, including heart attack, that could be fatal.

Damage to Kidneys

Every organ needs potassium in the cells to work properly, particularly the kidneys. According to the NLM, potassium deficiency can lead to serious damage to the kidneys. Potassium deficiency can cause a kidney condition called hypokalemic nephropathy.

Milder Symptoms

Low potassium levels can cause a number of more minor symptoms, including constipation and fatigue, say the experts at the NLM. It can also lead to the destruction of fibers in the muscles, causing significant weakness, cramping or even spasms in the muscles. A general feeling of weakness may also occur, in addition to excessive thirst and urination. Children and babies can suffer from excessive diarrhea and vomiting, which can be fatal.

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