Low Potassium Levels in Your Blood (Hypokalemia)
What does having low potassium levels in your blood mean?
Low potassium levels in your blood is also called hypokalemia. Normal levels of potassium range from 3.5 mmol/L to 5.1 mmol/L in adults. (Reference ranges are not the exact same at every laboratory). Usually, levels under 2.5 mmol/L are considered to be very serious.
What does potassium do for your body?
Potassium levels are very important in keeping your muscles, nerves, and heart working well. Potassium, an electrolyte, is also important for digestive health and for bone health.
What causes low potassium levels?
Low potassium can be caused by:
- Frequent vomiting and/or diarrhea, including diarrhea from abusing laxatives
- Excessive sweating
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Drugs, including diuretics (which cause urination), antibiotics, and corticosteroids
- Not taking in enough potassium due to a poor diet (less common)
- Adrenal disorders (rarely, overactive adrenal disorders such as Cushing’s syndrome, primary aldosteronism)
- Kidney disease (rarely, renal tubular acidosis)
- Rarely: colon villous polyps, certain medications, and some rare disorders, such as Liddle syndrome, Bartter’s syndrome, and Gitelman syndrome
What are the symptoms of low potassium levels?
Mild cases of low potassium might not cause symptoms. More severe cases might cause:
- Muscle twitches
- Muscle cramps or weakness
- Muscles that will not move (paralysis)
- Abnormal heart rhythms
- Kidney problems