The medical term for low potassium is hypokalemia. The condition causes several health complications, as potassium is an essential mineral that the body uses for nerve and muscle cell functionality. Potassium is water soluble, so rather than storing it, the body excretes excess potassium in urine. Consequently, it is necessary to consume potassium from food daily to maintain the appropriate balance. The recommended daily dosage of potassium for adults is 4.7 g per day, according to MedlinePlus.com.
Video of the Day
Hypokalemia and Fainting
Most of the major symptoms of hypokalemia relate to fatigue, consistent with potassium's importance to muscles and nerves. One such symptom is fainting. However, these symptoms typically relate to sharp and severe drops in potassium levels, rather than a gradual decline over time. Spontaneous and dramatic drops in potassium levels usually result from distinct influences, such as antibiotics, diuretics, diseases that affect the kidneys, large amounts of glycyrrhetinic acid -- a substance that naturally appears in licorice root, excessive sweating or vomiting and eating disorders.
Other symptoms of hypokalemia include fatigue, muscle weakness, spasms, abnormal heart rhythms, constipation, muscle deterioration and paralysis. Abnormal heart rhythms in particular can cause light-headedness, dizziness and fainting, which illustrates how symptoms coincide, exacerbating into worse and more numerous conditions as hypokalemia progresses. Paralysis is as bad as it gets, but it is extremely dangerous, even fatal; often, paralysis from hypokalemia includes the lungs, causing death relatively quickly without immediate treatment.
Prognosis and Treatment
Although hypokalemia can result in death without treatment, you can avoid most, if not all of the symptoms associated with hypokalemia with treatment. Oral or intravenous supplementation can effectively solve most forms of the condition. Inadequate treatment for hypokalemia that prevents worsening conditions, but does not correct the imbalance, can cause kidney damage over time. Some types of hypokalemia require a reduction in thyroid hormone in addition to potassium supplementation.
Eating foods that contain potassium daily can help ensure you never encounter issues associated with hypokalemia. Foods particularly high in the mineral include bran, granola, milk, peaches, peas, bananas, Brussels sprouts, kiwi, lima beans, oranges, peanut butter, beans and tomatoes. It is prudent to eat a predominance of this food and consider oral supplements if you experience excessive vomiting or diarrhea, require diuretic use or experience other conditions conducive to hypokalemia.