Hypokalemia is deficiency in the mineral potassium — hypo means less than normal and kalemia stands for kalium, which is the Latin word for potash (potassium was first obtained from salt potash).
According to health authorities, potassium is one of the most important minerals in your body. Here are some of the different roles it plays:
- Regulation of fluid balance
- Maintenance of proper muscle contraction
- Preservation of optimum nerve functioning
- Reduction in the blood pressure
- Prevention of kidney stones and osteoporosis
It’s no wonder why being deficient in potassium can be a massive problem — severe hypokalemia that’s not addressed promptly can be very fatal!
There are many different things that can cause hypokalemia to strike. Some of the most common examples include:
- Vomiting a lot
- Taking water pills
- Sweating excessively
- Having diarrhea
- Popping laxatives in the mouth
- Consuming lots of alcohol
- Taking certain antibiotics
Experts say that there are also certain medical conditions that can cause low potassium levels, and some of them include folic acid deficiency and having problems with the kidneys.
Hypokalemia is more common than you think. Studies show that about 98 percent of people in the US are not getting their recommended daily intake of potassium. Such can be primarily blamed on a Western diet that is mainly comprised of processed foods.
Needless to say, it’s of utmost importance for you to opt for a diet that enables your body to obtain good amounts of potassium.
Here are some of the top food sources of the said mineral:
- Sweet potatoes
- Butternut squash
- Coconut water
- Orange juice
If you’re not getting enough potassium from your diet, you may experience the following signs and symptoms associated with hypokalemia:
According to health authorities, weakness is usually the very first problem noticed or encountered by someone who is deficient in potassium.
Earlier, it was mentioned that one of the roles played by potassium is maintaining optimum muscle contraction.
If you do not have enough potassium in your body, your muscles may not be able to contract properly and this can leave you feeling physically weak.
Because potassium is vital for proper muscular contraction, it’s not unlikely for you to experience muscle cramps if you have hypokalemia.
You see, sometimes hypokalemia can cause prolonged contraction of the muscles. Such is what can cause cramps to come into being.
It’s for this reason exactly why those who engage in intense exercises are encouraged to take electrolytes in order to prevent crams and other problems.
Your heart is basically a fist-sized lump of muscle. It’s for this reason why deficiency in potassium, a mineral that regulates muscle contraction, can cause heart palpitations.
By definition, palpitations are heartbeats that are strong, rapid and irregular.
While most of the time palpitations are due to physical exertion, stress and anxiety, there are instances in which they are actually due to hypokalemia.
Your entire digestive tract is lined with smooth muscles. And that is why having all kinds of issues related to the gastrointestinal or GI tract can sometimes be due to hypokalemia.
With the muscles of the GI tract weakened, it’s very much possible for abdominal pain, bloating, excess gas and constipation to be encountered.
And by the way, potassium is also a major role player in the proper functioning of the nerves — your nerves make it possible for signals to travel from the brain to the digestive system and vice versa.
It was mentioned earlier in this article that one of the many tasks carried out by the mineral potassium is the preservation of the functioning of the nerves.
That is why being deficient in potassium can cause what’s referred to as paresthesia — a tingling sensation in the hands, arms, feet and legs.
However, it’s important to note that paresthesia can also be due to some other problems, and diabetes is an example.