You need to get the right amount of potassium in your diet for your body to function normally. Potassium levels that get too high or too low can cause a variety of symptoms and health problems, such as feeling lightheaded. If you are concerned about your potassium level or any symptoms you may be having, be sure to consult your physician before supplementing or changing your diet.
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Potassium is an electrolyte that plays a role in maintaining the right acid-base balance, manufacturing proteins, digesting carbohydrates, proper muscle and overall growth, and keeping the heart beat regular. To avoid complications, adults should aim to get about 4.7 gm per day and since there are so many foods that contain potassium, a well-balanced diet should easily provide all that you need, says MedlinePlus. Foods such as red meat, chicken, salmon, cod, flounder, soy products, broccoli, peas, lima beans, tomatoes, potatoes and squash are all good sources of potassium. You can also get potassium from cantaloupe, bananas, kiwi, prunes, apricots, dairy products and nuts.
Hypokalemia is the medical term for low levels of potassium in the body, and your level is considered low when it falls below 3.6 mEq/L, or milliequivalents per liter. When your level falls below 2.5 mEq/L it can be life-threatening, reports MayoClinic.com. Hypokalemia can be caused by illnesses in which there is prolonged vomiting or diarrhea, taking diuretics or other pills to reduce edema, eating disorders, excessive use of laxatives, or an underlying medical condition such as chronic kidney disease or other disease in which the body is unable to absorb potassium.
Low Potassium and Lightheadedness
Since the right level of potassium is needed for the heart to function properly, when levels get too low your heart rate can change, which affects the amount of blood and oxygen your body and brain receive. While just a small drop in potassium level does not usually cause symptoms, a level that is low enough to affect the electrical activity of the heart may cause lightheadedness and fatigue along with other symptoms. If you think your lightheadedness is due to a low potassium level, talk to your doctor who can run blood and urine tests as well as examine the electrical activity of your heart to confirm a diagnosis, notes the University of Maryland Medical Center.
An irregular heart beat, or arrhythmia, that is caused by a low level of potassium should be discussed with a doctor, especially if symptoms such as lightheadedness, dizziness, confusion, fainting spells or trouble breathing occur, suggests the Cleveland Clinic. Treatment for the lightheadedness and abnormal heart rate depends on the severity and the cause of low potassium levels. You may need to make lifestyle changes such as eating more potassium rich foods, quitting smoking, getting regular exercise, cutting back on alcohol and caffeine intake and learning to manage stress. Your doctor may change medications that are causing your potassium levels to drop, and you may require supplementation if you cannot get enough potassium in your diet.