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Can Low Potassium Cause Seizures?

by
author image M. Gideon Hoyle
M. Gideon Hoyle is a writer living outside of Houston. Previously, he produced brochures and a wide variety of other materials for a nonprofit educational foundation. He now specializes in topics related to health, exercise and nutrition, publishing for various websites.
Can Low Potassium Cause Seizures?
Citrus fruits are a good source of dietary potassium. Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images

Potassium is a mineral your body uses for purposes that include maintenance of your normal heart function and the contraction of both your voluntary and involuntary muscles. If you don't get enough of this mineral, you can develop a low-potassium disorder called hypokalemia. While hypokalemia can trigger the onset of a variety of serious symptoms, it does not cause seizures.

Potassium Basics

Potassium comes from dietary sources that include bananas, avocados, potatoes, lima beans, tomatoes, oranges and other citrus fruits, as well as certain types of fish and all types of meat. The average person gets enough potassium from eating these foods, notes the University of Maryland Medical Center. However, you can develop low potassium if you have an eating disorder, develop chronic diarrhea, vomit, sweat excessively, are malnourished, have difficulty absorbing the potassium in your diet or use certain types of antibiotics or diuretics.

Hypokalemia Effects

Hypokalemia technically sets in when your blood levels of potassium fall below 3.5 mEq/L. However, you probably won't develop any symptoms of the disorder if your potassium levels range between 3.0 and 3.5 mEq/L. If your levels fall below 3.0 mEq/L, you can develop symptoms that include muscle weakness, muscle cramps, muscle twitching, low blood pressure, respiratory failure, paralysis and the muscle breakdown disorder called rhabdomyolysis. If your potassium levels remains low for extended periods, normal kidney function may be impaired.

Understanding Seizures

Seizure is a general term that describes the results of electrical abnormalities in your brain that disrupt your normal brain/body function. Specific types of seizures include partial seizures and generalized tonic clonic seizures. MedlinePlus lists seizure causes that include dementia, stroke, traumatic brain injuries, severe alcohol withdrawal, low blood levels of sodium or glucose, genetic predisposition, liver or kidney failure, brain tumors, bleeding in your brain and brain infections. You can also develop seizures if you take recreational drugs such as amphetamines or cocaine, or experience withdrawal after using medications such as sleeping pills, barbiturates or painkillers.

Hypokalemia Treatment

If you have a mild case of hypokalemia, you doctor will probably be able to increase your potassium levels with oral supplements. However, if you have severe hypokalemia, you may need intravenous potassium. If you have a condition that requires you to use diuretics, your doctor can prescribe specific types of these medications --- such as spironolactone and triamterine --- that do their job while retaining your body's potassium supply. In some cases, your doctor may need to increase your potassium levels by decreasing your blood levels of hormones from your thyroid gland. You can potentially avoid hypokalemia by maintaining your intake of potassium-rich foods. Ask your doctor for more information on the potential effects of hypokalemia.

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