General Illness Information

Medical Term: Hypokalemia

Common Name: Low potassium, potassium deficiency

Description: Hypokalemia is a decrease in the concentration of potassium in the blood below 3.5 mmol / l. Normal potassium content in the blood is 3.5-5.5 mmol / l.


The main causes leading to hypokalemia are:

  • Significant removal of potassium from the body due to vomiting, hyperglycaemia, diarrhea, hyperaldosteronism, metabolic alkalosis, kidney disease, and some diuretic medications. Excessive loss of potassium is the main cause of hypokalemia;
  • Insufficient intake of this element in the body with food. This cause of hypokalemia can occur in people who follow to a very strict diet or fasting. Also, hypokalemia may develops in people prone to geophagia. In this case, the iron present in the clay binds to potassium to form an insoluble complex. As a result, potassium can not be absorbed from the intestine and not absorbed by the body;
  • Significant intake of potassium from the intercellular fluid inside the cells. This movement of potassium can be observed with the introduction of large doses of insulin, after the abuse of alcoholic beverages, with an excess of catecholamines, or with an overdose of certain vitamins, in particular folic acid.

Signs & Symptoms:

The main signs of potassium deficiency in the body:

  • Constant feeling of fatigue, decrease in working capacity;
  • pronounced apathy, confusion, depression;
  • weakened protective properties of the body due to toxic effects;
  • muscle weakness;
  • depletion of the adrenal glands, a decrease in the adaptive properties of the body;
  • dry skin and brittle hair;
  • violated respiratory system functions, rapid and shallow breathing;
  • nausea, vomiting, disorders of the gastrointestinal tract;
  • frequent urination;
  • miscarriage, cervical erosion, infertility.

Hypokalemia symptoms are associated with the cardiovascular system, because the heart is more prone to potassium deficiency.

Symptoms associated with the cardiovascular system:

  • metabolic disturbances and functional failure of the myocardium;
  • arrhythmia;
  • tachycardia;
  • cardiac tone deafness;
  • heart attacks;
  • heart failure;
  • low blood pressure.


The main method of diagnosing the potassium deficiency is collecting anamnesis, which will allow determine the clinical signs of hypokalemia. The doctor specifies the presence of chronic pathologies and digestive disorders, whether the patient takes diuretics or antibiotics or has recently taken a laxative.

Other diagnostic methods for hypokalemia are a serum level K blood test, urinalysis, special studies – adrenal computed tomography and an electrocardiogram (ECG).

When analyzing blood in patients with severe leukocytosis, pseudohyposophilia is possible (leukocytes extradite potassium from the plasma). This effect usually occurs with prolonged storage of the assays at room temperature. To avoid a false diagnosis, it is necessary to keep blood in the refrigerator or to separate serum or plasma from blood cells as soon as possible.

The study of urine makes it possible to identify the main cause of a decreased potassium level. If renal function does not suffer, the daily volume of potassium in urine is about 15 mmol. In this case, the cause of the potassium deficiency is its removal through the digestive tract and with sweat, as well as after excessive vomiting or a course of diuretic drugs.

An effective and rapid method is the determination of CGPC (a chronocrystal gradient of potassium concentration).


  • Potassium deficiency, as a rule, can be easily replenished by eating products rich in potassium, or taking potassium salt (potassium chloride). Since potassium can irritate the gastrointestinal tract, its preparations should be taken with food in small doses several times a day;
  • Patients who receive diuretics, most often are not prescribed potassium preparations, but periodically they should check the concentration of potassium in the blood, in order to change the regimen of the medication, if necessary;
  • With a significant loss of potassium, this substance is administered intravenously. This is done only in the hospital to avoid a significant increase in the potassium concentration in the blood.


To prevent hypokalemia, you should include in your diet foods rich in potassium:

  • Dried fruits;
  • Bananas;
  • Potatoes (preferably baked);
  • Cabbage;
  • Spinach;
  • Salad;
  • Nuts (peanuts, almonds, cedar or walnuts).

Correct and rational nutrition allows the human body to receive all the necessary substances from food, which allows to avoid hypokalemia.

Possible Complications:

  • Hypokalemia may cause the development of myalgia (muscle pain), adynamia and severe arrhythmias;
  • Potassium deficiency contributes to excessive tension and exhaustion of the insular apparatus, which increases the risk of diabetes;
  • Lack of potassium may cause glycoside intoxication, if the patient takes cardiac glycosides (digitalis preparations), which are poorly excreted by the kidneys due to hypokalemia;
  • The lack of potassium in the body gradually leads to a violation of the general acid-base state (KHS);
  • Hypokalemia can lead to sudden cardiac arrest during systole, which is called sudden coronary death (due to a significant disruption of acid-base balance and changes in the myocardium).


Prevention of this disease in children and adults involves the use of a large number of fresh fruits and vegetables, as a source of the main source of potassium. Moderate consumption of sweets and alcohol. Morning coffee can be replaced with a cool contrast shower, to avoid washing away potassium from the body and preventing the development of hypokalemia symptoms.

Most foods with a high content of potassium contain a large number of calories, so older people prefer to receive the required amount of this trace element from special preparations of potassium and magnesium.

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