Potassium is crucial to heartbeat regulation, muscle contraction and proper functioning of the nervous system, according to the American Heart Association. Potassium deficiency, or hypokalemia, can cause weakness and muscle cramps, excessive urination and thirst or abnormal heart rhythm, a potentially fatal complication of low potassium. Supplementation may be necessary when potassium levels in the body fall dangerously low due to kidney disease, excessive sweating, prolonged vomiting or diarrhea, dietary insufficiency or the use of diuretics or other medications.
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Take potassium pills only under the direction of your doctor. Taking potassium supplements may not be safe if you suffer from heart disease, kidney disease, allergies or digestive difficulties. Your doctor will need to know of any medications you are currently taking, especially if you are currently using diuretics, ACE inhibitors, heparin, beta-blockers or digoxin.
Take potassium pills with meals to avoid upset stomach, and swallow sustained-release tablets or capsules whole with a full glass of water. Do not chew the pills.
Speak with your doctor if you are unable to comfortably swallow your pills whole. Some capsules are available by prescription that can be opened and sprinkled on food for those with difficulty swallowing, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Remain upright for at least 30 minutes after taking sustained-release formulas.
Follow the directions given to you by your doctor or pharmacist. Different strengths and types of supplements are taken at different intervals throughout the day. To ensure effectiveness and prevent overdose, take your potassium pills only as prescribed. The National Institutes of Health states that potassium supplements are typically taken two to four times each day.
Skip any missed doses unless you remember to take your pill within two hours of your scheduled dose. Do not ever take more than one pill at the same time in order to catch up on missed pills. Doing so may be dangerous.
Expect several days of mild diarrhea or nausea. These side effects should disappear with continued treatment. If they continue longer than one week or become worse over time, consult your doctor for instructions.
Notify your doctor if you develop chest pain, stomach pain, black stools, breathing problems, irregular heartbeat, tingling in your extremities, confusion or muscle weakness.
Watch for symptoms of overdose, such as irregular heartbeat, severe muscle weakness or bloody stools. Development of these symptoms requires immediate medical attention. In rare cases, potassium toxicity can be fatal.
Store your pills in a dry, dark location, away from children and pets. Keep potassium pills at room temperature. Do not freeze.