Mild hypokalemia usually has no symptoms.
Moderate hypokalemia symptoms may include:
- Muscle weakness
- Cramps during exercise
- Leg discomfort when sitting still
- Extreme weakness
- Trouble breathing
- Abnormal heartbeat (arrhythmia)
Hypokalemia can be caused by kidney problems, malnutrition or a depletion of your body's potassium stores. Your body can lose potassium from diarrhea, vomiting, overuse of laxatives or even excessive sweating.
Hypokalemia can also develop as a side effect of certain medications, especially certain types of diuretics or "water pills." Diuretics are used to treat conditions like high blood pressure, heart failure and liver or kidney disease. Other medications, such as insulin or steroids, can also affect potassium levels in your body.
In most cases, hypokalemia can be successfully treated. If it is a mild case, you may just need to eat more foods that contain potassium. In some cases, you may need to add a potassium supplement to your diet.
If medications are causing the problem, your doctor may change your medication or its dosage. You may also need to take a potassium supplement.
If you have severe hypokalemia, you may need hospital care to receive potassium by IV (through the vein).
Getting enough potassium
A healthy adult needs about 4,700 milligrams of potassium a day. Because it is found in many foods, most people get enough of it in their regular diet. You usually won't need a supplement if you are eating a healthy, balanced diet.
You can replace potassium lost during heavy exercise by drinking sports drinks that contain electrolytes.
If you take diuretics, be sure to get enough potassium-rich foods in your diet, including:
- Sweet potatoes and baked potatoes
- Tomato paste, tomato juice and tomato sauce
- Beans, soybeans and lentils
- Yogurt and low-fat milk
- Tuna, halibut, rockfish and cod
- Bananas, peaches, prunes, apricots and cantaloupe