5 Low Potassium Symptoms to Watch Out For

When you hear the word potassium, bananas probably come to mind. Fair enough, they are a great source of potassium after all, but this is often where common knowledge begins and ends when it comes to potassium. Unfortunately, since potassium is a super-important mineral (and electrolyte) for a ton of bodily functions, and only about three percent of adults in the US get enough potassium, says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN , registered dietitian and author of Read it before you eat it: from label to table.

“Potassium is essential for communication between cells and nerve connections; this is important for muscle contractions and kidney function,” says Taub-Dix. “Some people don’t realize how important potassium is to the body and how much they need. People are familiar with sodium, protein, vitamin C and even antioxidants, for example, but many aren’t as familiar with the potassium”. This is why, according to Taub-Dix, many foods are beginning to include potassium in their packaging.

“Potassium is part of every cell in the body,” says Kaustubh Dabhadkar, MD, MPH, MBA, FACC, a North Carolina cardiologist specializing in preventive care. “It is necessary for the proper functioning of muscles and nerves; low potassium levels make it hard for muscles and nerves to function.”

Clearly, getting enough potassium is very important for maintaining a healthy heart, muscle contractions, and even neurological function. “And while most Americans could handle including more potassium in their diets, keep in mind that it’s much easier to lose potassium when you exercise because it’s closely related to hydration levels,” adds Taub-Dix. This is even more true when spending time outdoors in hot weather.

Here are some signs your body is telling you you need more potassium to watch out for this summer (and throughout the year), according to Taub-Dix and Dr. Dabhadkar.

5 Low Potassium Symptoms To Watch For, According To An RD And A Cardiologist

1. You have a headache, dry mouth, or are generally very thirsty

“If you’ve been working out, working out, or sweating in the sun, you may need to get your potassium back up,” says Taub-Dix. The US National Library of Medicine states that mild drops in potassium can have specific symptoms that can mimic dehydration (think thirst, dry mouth, and headache), however mild drops in potassium can manifest differently depending on the person.

2. You feel like your heart skips a beat or you experience palpitations

“You may have an irregular heartbeat or palpitations because potassium has to do with how your muscles work,” says Taub-Dix. “If you ever feel a funny feeling in your heart, it may be the result of low potassium.” For most heart-related issues, if you are experiencing severe pain, arm pain, or any other acute heart-related symptoms, it is best to seek emergency medical care as soon as possible.

“Low potassium levels can induce extra heartbeats, which can lead to palpitations,” says Dr. Dabhadkar. “Also, potassium helps relax blood vessels, and therefore low potassium leads to high blood pressure in the long run.”

3. You have muscle spasms or cramps

“Cramps, muscle weakness, and muscle spasms are a telltale sign of low potassium,” says Taub-Dix. That charlie horse that wakes you up in the middle of the night or that back spasm that puts you out of commission when you bend over to pick up a sock could be a sign that you need more potassium. That’s because, according to Taub-Dix, when muscle cells don’t have enough of this mineral, they don’t “push and pull” muscles as easily as they would when they have enough potassium.

4. You are experiencing constipation

Believe it or not, this muscle impact of low potassium is also why low potassium can also cause constipation. “With low potassium levels, the small muscle of the intestine does not contract properly,” says Dr. Dabhadkar. Having enough of this mineral allows your digestive system to squeeze and release, which is how it moves stool from your stomach, through your body, and out.

Note that severe calcium deficiency can lead to a condition known as hypokalemia, however this is very unusual among healthy people with normal kidney function and is rarely caused by low dietary potassium intake alone. Hypokalemia is usually caused by the use of diuretics and other medications, but can be the result of diarrhea due to potassium losses in the stool.

5. You feel fatigued or weaker than usual

According to Taub-Dix, malaise can also be related to low potassium levels. “In the absence of adequate potassium, large muscles do not contract optimally,” says Dr. Dabhadkar. This means that when you’re low on potassium, your muscles can’t work as effectively as they normally would, which can make you feel weaker than usual.

What to do if you experience any of these low potassium symptoms

If you’re feeling fatigued or not like yourself, the first step is to see a health care provider before trying to diagnose yourself with a potassium deficiency. That said, it is forever It’s a good idea to include more electrolytes and potassium-rich foods in your diet.

“I really recommend trying to get your potassium from food, rather than a potassium supplement, because you can get a lot of nutrients from food at once,” says Taub-Dix. This is particularly helpful for a nutrient like potassium that needs other minerals to do its job.

The good news is that there are so many delicious sources of potassium to choose from. “Potatoes, cooked spinach, carrots, avocados, milk, peas, beans, peanut butter, salmon, cooked lean beef, and seaweed are excellent sources of potassium. Believe it or no, a baked potato has about twice the potassium content of a potato.” banana,” says Taub-Dix. The more you know!

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