Hypokalemia: what is it? See symptoms, treatment and causes


What is Hypokalemia?

Hypokalemia is the amount of potassium in the bloodstream that is below the required level. Potassium is a very important electrolyte for the proper functioning of muscle and nerve cells and, especially, for heart muscle cells.

The level of potassium in human blood usually varies between 3.6 and 5.2 mmol / L to be considered normal. For hypokalemia to be considered, the value must be between 3 and 3.5 mmol / L. When the disease is considered moderate, the levels range from 2.5 to 3 mmol / L. If the levels are even lower than 2.5mmol / L, it is necessary to go to the doctor urgently, as there is a risk of life.

What Causes Hypokalemia

Hypokalemia occurs when the body excessively loses the body’s potassium. This usually occurs in urine, sweat, or stool. The use of diuretics is a major cause of the problem. In addition, there are other factors that cause hypokalemia:

  • Use of antibiotics and / or laxatives;
  • Vomiting;
  • Diarrhea;
  • Dehydration;
  • Sweating;
  • Use of diuretics;
  • Excess sugar;
  • Magnesium deficiency;
  • Diabetic ketoacidose;
  • Chronic kidney disease.

Another way hypokalemia happens is dehydration caused by excessive potassium excretions through urine, vomiting or feces causing the appetite to disappear.

Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia

Anorexics and bulimics can suffer from the problem because of eating poorly and causing vomiting, causing potassium and even other vitamins to not get into the bloodstream, which can even generate fatal cardiac arrhythmias.

Difference between hypokalaemia and hyperkalaemia

The main similarity between the diseases is that both are caused by potassium in the blood. Hypokalaemia is when it is lacking and hyperkalaemia is when it is in excess. Symptoms, causes and treatment are done in different ways.

Symptoms of Hypokalemia

In many cases, the symptoms are not noticeable. But in others, some signs indicate hypokalemia with mild and moderate symptoms. In more severe cases, the symptoms can bring serious problems and health risks:

  • Fatigue;
  • Cardiac arrhythmias;
  • Intestinal constipation;
  • Muscle weakness or spasms;
  • Muscle injury;
  • Cramps and spasms;
  • Muscular paralysis;
  • Muscle aches.

Cardiac patients with respiratory distress should redouble their attention to symptoms.



The diagnosis of hypokalemia can be made by a cardiologist, urologist, gastroenterologist, rheumatologist, proctologist or general practitioner.

It is necessary to keep an eye on the symptoms of the disease to prevent it from reaching a critical moment, at the risk of life.

When you consult one of these doctors, he will order a blood test to analyze the amount of potassium in your bloodstream. If this is the problem, only the blood test is enough, but if the doctor suspects other diseases, tests such as electrocardiogram , arterial blood gas analysis and basic or comprehensive metabolic panel can be ordered from the patient.

It is also interesting to arrive at the office with some clarified information, such as:

  • The symptoms and how long ago they appeared;
  • What is the intensity and frequency at which they occur;
  • How is the patient’s food and diet;
  • If there are lung or heart problems;
  • If the patient has already had a health problem;
  • If you have ever been hospitalized.

These and other answers are for the doctor to discover the best treatment for the patient.

Hypokalemia Treatment

When the case of hypokalemia is simple, it can be treated only with potassium supplements in tablets, capsules or liquid. If the case is severe, potassium can be injected into the vein so that it reaches the bloodstream more quickly.

In cases where it is not necessary to take medications, just cutting or changing the diuretic medications can be enough for the problem to be resolved, however, it is necessary that the doctor prescribes the doses and prescriptions.


NEVER self-medicate or stop using a medication without first consulting a doctor. Only he will be able to tell which medication, dosage and duration of treatment is the most suitable for his specific case. The information contained on this site is only intended to inform, not in any way intended to replace the guidance of a specialist or serve as a recommendation for any type of treatment. Always follow the instructions on the package insert and, if symptoms persist, seek medical or pharmaceutical advice.


Severe cases of hypokalemia (those that can arise if the blood potassium level is below 2.5 mmol / L) can result in paralysis. Other risks of hypokalemia are irregular heartbeat, putting the patient’s life in danger.

If treatment is delayed, kidney problems may still arise due to a lack of potassium in the organ (hypokalemic nephropathy).

Hypokalemia Prevention

Having a diet rich in potassium is an alternative to avoid hypokalemia. Foods rich in potassium are:

  • Banana;
  • Cereals;
  • Avocado;
  • Dry fig;
  • Kiwi;
  • Milk;
  • Orange;
  • Peanut butter;
  • Beans and peas;
  • Tomatoes;
  • Spinach.

Although the disease is not so well known, singer Luciano, from the duo Zezé Di Camargo and Luciano, has already suffered the disease and was treated quickly and sent to the hospital. There he was diagnosed with severe hypokalemia, but with the help of supplements and other medications, the singer left the hospital and returned with his partnership with his older brother a few days later.

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