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What Will Low Potassium Do to the Elderly?

by
author image Laura Niedziocha
Laura Niedziocha began her writing career in 2007. She has contributed material to the Stoneking Physical Therapy and Wellness Center in Lambertville, N.J., and her work has appeared in various online publications. Niedziocha graduated from Temple University with a Bachelor of Science in exercise science. She also has her Associate of Arts in communications from the Community College of Philadelphia.
What Will Low Potassium Do to the Elderly?
Baked potatoes are a healthy source of potassium. Photo Credit kriszta89/iStock/Getty Images

Potassium is an essential mineral, necessary for a healthy functioning body. Current recommendations for potassium are to consume 3,500 milligrams per day. Low potassium is known as hypokalemia. For most, a healthy, well-balanced diet will provide enough potassium. The elderly are susceptible to various deficiencies due to certain medications, health problems or lost appetite. Low potassium can have negative impacts on the health of the elderly.

Signs and Symptoms

The most important thing to know about low potassium is what to look for. Certain signs and symptoms can indicate if you or a loved one may be suffering from hypokalemia. Symptoms can include weakness, reduced energy, muscle cramps, stomach pain and an irregular heart beat. The best way to determine if you have a potassium deficiency is to see the doctor. He can perform blood tests and an EKG to diagnose hypokalemia.

Causes

There are four main causes of low potassium. First, is malnutrition. Lack of eating or eating unhealthy foods can deplete the body of essential vitamins and minerals. Excess urine secretion of potassium may also be to blame. Dietary potassium excreted through the urine can increase with age and lead to a deficiency. Too much sodium in your diet can cause a potassium deficiency. Your body balances sodium, potassium and magnesium. Excess sodium calls for more potassium which can lead to hypokalemia. Dehydration might also be to blame. Dehydration can result in loss of potassium inside of your cells.

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Blood Pressure

The most significant marker of low potassium is its effect on your blood pressure. Potassium helps to regulate your heart rate and blood pressure. This is especially important for elderly people who already have a history of high blood pressure. A potassium deficiency can cause your blood pressure to increase to dangerous levels with symptoms such as headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, confusion or loss of vision. Other cardiovascular illnesses such as atherosclerosis or certain arrhythmias can be worsened with high blood pressure.

Kidney Damage

Renal function is interrupted in a low potassium state. High blood pressure, another effect of hypokalemia, can worsen kidney function. Low potassium increases urinary calcium excretion, a risk factor for developing kidney stones. Excess urinary calcium due to low potassium levels also decreases bone mineral density, which elevates the risk of developing osteoporosis. If left untreated, hypokalemia can cause permanent kidney damage.

Sources

Eating a well-balanced diet and maintaining your water intake can meet your body's needs for potassium. Fish, bananas, melons, potatoes, beans and milk are healthy sources of potassium. One serving of baked fish contains 405 milligrams of potassium. One medium banana provides 467 milligrams. A melon wedge gives you 434 milligrams of potassium. One half cup of cooked beans provides around 400 milligrams of potassium. Eat one baked potato and you will consume 477 milligrams of sodium. A cup of nonfat milk gives you 407 milligrams of potassium.

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