Our bodies are constantly dependent of specific amino acids and minerals to be properly maintained. One of these essential minerals is potassium. In fact, potassium is a vital electrolyte found in the blood that can heavily influence the overall function of the body. Along with other electrolytes, including chloride, magnesium, and sodium, potassium plays a crucial role in maintaining organ and tissue health. Furthermore, potassium is helpful in stabilizing the pH in the blood as well as regulating fluids in the body. Heart function and muscle contractions are also depended on the amount of potassium in the body.
Other key functions of potassium include maintaining normal blood pressure and ensuring proper brain, kidney, and muscle function. According to WHO, potassium can help lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Other sources, such as the American Heart Association, have even indicated that the proper amount of potassium in the body can decrease the risk of stroke and other death risks, especially in older women. Additionally, potassium can be very helpful in reducing anxiety and stress by stabilizing specific hormones in the body, therefore promoting both physical and mental health.
Potassium deficiency in the blood, also known as hypokalemia, has become more prevalent, especially in older adults. Perhaps the most common cause for hypokalemia are diuretics, or medication that causes excessive urine loss. Diuretics work by flushing out the salts from the body. When this occurs, potassium is also released in large amounts, which causes potassium levels in the body to greatly reduce. Diuretics are primarily prescribed to people who suffer from high blood pressure and glaucoma, which is why potassium deficiency is most common among them. Hypokalemia can also be caused by kidney disease, antibiotics, and even excessive sweating. Certain cancers, such as leukemia, might also reduce potassium levels. Having a magnesium deficiency will often times result in low potassium in the blood, being that magnesium is responsible for transporting potassium ions in the body.
Common symptoms of hypokalemia include tiredness, weakness, palpitations, nausea, and fainting. Hypokalemia can also cause depression, confusion, and even delirium depending on the severity of it. Symptoms of hypokalemia often resemble mild symptoms that can be associated with other disorders and diseases, therefore making it more difficult to diagnose. Sometimes, in mild cases, there may be no symptoms present. Therefore, it is important to seek the help of a medical professional for proper diagnoses and treatment.
To confirm the above mentioned symptoms, doctors will usually perform some tests. A blood test is the primary method used for detecting low potassium levels, being that potassium in an electrolyte. A kidney function test might also be used to detect potassium imbalance. Because hypokalemia can cause an irregular heartbeat, an ECG may also be helpful in detecting arrhythmia and other heart irregularities.
Treatment of hypokalemia depends of the levels of potassium in the body. The average amount of potassium level in the blood is between 3.5 and 5.0 mEq/L. Those who suffer from mild hypokalemia, between 2.5 to 3.5 mEq/L, will be prescribed treatment in the form of a pill or a liquid to restore potassium levels in the body. Those with a potassium level lower than 2.5 mEq/L are closely monitored in a hospital setting until potassium levels in the blood have been fully restored. Potassium supplements are also prescribed to treat minor hypokalemia or to maintain potassium levels. It would also be beneficial to consult with a dietitian or a nutritionist to discuss diet options suitable for combating hypokalemia. Making a health and wellness program can also be helpful in monitoring potassium intake.