Potassium and iron are two minerals required to keep your body functioning properly. When you have low levels of either mineral, you can experience serious and sometimes life-threatening side effects. A knowledge of the symptoms of low levels of each ensures you recognize warning signs before your levels dip too low.
Both potassium and iron levels can be determined by a simple blood test. The normal potassium levels in the blood range from 3.6 to 4.8 milliequivalents per liter, according to the Mayo Clinic. Low potassium levels—also known as hypokalemia—are defined as less than 2.5 milliequivalents per liter. Anemia tests measure the amount of hemoglobin—the substance that moves red blood cells—in the body, according to the National Anemia Action Council. Low levels are considered anything less than 13g per deciliter. However, severe anemia occurs when a person’s levels drop below 8g per deciliter.
Low iron levels occur with insufficient dietary intake, after a growth spurt, during pregnancy or after you have lost a significant amount of blood, such as after surgery or an injury, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. Causes of low potassium include use of diuretics, chronic diarrhea, kidney failure, frequent vomiting and abuse of laxatives, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Symptoms of low potassium include weakness, trouble moving the muscles, muscle cramps, constipation and an irregular heartbeat, in severe instances, according to the Mayo Clinic. Anemia, on the other hand, may not cause symptoms until levels have dropped very low, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. They can include palor, fatigue, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, cold extremities, brittle nails and dizziness.
A healthy diet varied in food selections can help to fight both anemia and hypokalemia—except in the instances of body malfunction, such as kidney failure. Foods high in potassium include bananas, bran, granola, kiwi, lima beans, milk, peaches, peanut butter, beans and peas, according to MedlinePlus. Foods high in iron include meats, such as liver, seafood, dried fruits, nuts, beans, spinach, whole grains and foods fortified with iron, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.
While taking iron or potassium supplements can help to raise your mineral levels, they can be accompanied by harmful side effects. For example, iron pills can cause constipation and nausea, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. Those who take potassium supplements, yet still experience low levels may need to be given intravenous potassium, according to MedlinePlus.