Abnormal levels of potassium in the body can result in sensory loss. Sometimes referred to as paresthesias, this numb or tingling sensation is usually isolated to the fingers, toes, hands or feet, but it may radiate out into other areas of the body including the arms and legs. Potassium is essential to the function of your nerves, so declining levels can affect the electrical impulses passed from the skin and muscles to the spinal cord and brain, leading to a loss of sensation along the outer extremities.
Though your diet is the main source of potassium, a dietary deficiency of this nutrient is rarely the cause of low potassium, or hypokalemia, explains MayoClinic.com. Normally, the decline in this nutrient is linked to the excessive loss of potassium through the urine or digestive tract. Diuretics or laxatives can greatly deplete potassium levels, especially with prolonged use. You may also experience low potassium from diarrhea and vomiting as well as chronic kidney failure or primary aldosteronism, a disorder of the adrenal glands.
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Besides changes in the sensation of your fingers, toes, hands and feet, it isn't uncommon to experience other symptoms associated with low potassium. Declining levels of this nutrient may also result in muscle weakness, muscle spasms, constipation, fatigue and irregular heartbeats. With more severe losses of potassium, you may even experience paralysis.
In mild cases of hypokalemia, you may see an improvement in your condition by eating foods high in potassium such as bananas, avocados, cantaloupe, figs, potatoes, broccoli, carrots, spinach, squash, almonds, cod, halibut and yogurt. Most legumes, including lentils, kidney beans, lima beans, pinto beans, soybeans and black-eyed peas, are also rich in potassium. Including more of these foods in your diet can increase the level of this nutrient in the body.
If you have moderate to severe loss of potassium, diet alone won't help to improve the levels in the body. In this situation, medical intervention is often necessary. Medline Plus reports that you may require hospitalization, where you can receive intravenous potassium supplementation to return levels to normal.
Like low potassium, it's also possible to experience numbness when you have abnormally high levels of potassium in the body. Again, this relates to this nutrient's activity within your nerves. High levels can affect the impulses passed from the skin and muscles to the spinal cord and brain, leading to a loss of sensation within the fingers, toes, hands, feet and even arms or legs.