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Condition Basics

What is hypokalemia?

Hypokalemia (say "hy-poh-kay-LEE-mee-uh") is a low level of potassium in the blood. Potassium is both an electrolyte and a mineral. It helps keep the right mix of fluids in your body. It also helps keep your heart beating normally and your nerves and muscles working as they should.

What causes it?

Hypokalemia may happen when the body loses large amounts of certain fluids. Severe vomiting or diarrhea can cause it. So can medicines like certain diuretics and some types of antibiotics. Certain kidney problems, alcohol use disorder, severe burns, and—in some cases—cancer treatments may be the cause.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of hypokalemia include muscle weakness or cramping. You may have nausea, diarrhea, frequent urination, confusion, and mood changes. It may feel like your heart is missing beats. You may pass out (lose consciousness). In severe cases, your heart may stop due to cardiac arrest.

How is it diagnosed?

To diagnose hypokalemia, your doctor will examine you and ask about your health. You will have a blood test to check on your potassium levels.

How is hypokalemia treated?

If your doctor recommends it, you can eat foods that have a lot of potassium. These include bananas, potatoes, sweet potatoes, milk, and lentils. Your doctor may give you medicines, such as potassium and magnesium. These may be given in pills or through an I.V.


Current as of: March 1, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Christine Wendt RD - Registered Dietitian

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