Optimal potassium function is incredibly important to the human body. Potassium is a critical element to maintain a healthy heart muscle and stable blood pressure. Hypokalemia, a chronic potassium deficiency, can develop when your body’s potassium reserves drop below it’s most advantageous levels. Such instances that create this are some prescription drugs, diuretics, dehydration or frequent diarrhea and a diet lacking potassium rich foods. No matter what the cause of a potassium deficiency is it can have significant consequences for your health. The differences in your health you may experience initially may be subtle but they will continue to increase gradually until they debilitate the quality of life, and in some sever cases may even develop to be life threatening. Below are the most common 5 signs of potassium deficiency that you should consider being tested for with a simple blood test and/or urine test by your physician.
1. Heart palpitations
One of the most frightening symptoms associated with a potassium deficiency is heart palpitations.
The good news is that episodes of heart palpitations are very common in the general population, and most of these experiences are completely harmless. They can be triggered by a whole range of factors, include smoking, experiencing high stress level and eating spicy food. Sometimes, palpitations also occur as a medication side effect, especially in people taking drugs for a thyroid disorder or in those who use “reliever” inhalers for asthma symptoms.
However, potassium deficiency is frequently overlooked as a potential cause of heart rhythm disturbances, and this can have serious consequences. After all, in some cases certain types of heart palpitations carry an increased risk of stroke. If you have been suffering from heart palpitations, it’s always rise to have these episodes investigated by a doctor.
2. Muscle cramping, weakness and pain
We all suffer from muscle cramps now and again, most often when we have been engaging in strenuous exercise and experience a lactic acid buildup, or when we’ve injured ourselves and caused a strain. However, if you’re noticing painful muscle cramps on an increasingly regular basis and can’t always pinpoint a reasonable explanation for your discomfort, an underlying potassium deficiency may be to blame.
If a potassium deficiency gets to a severe and chronic stage, this problem with muscle weakness and cramping can actually lead to a paralysis-like sensation in some cases. While this should be reversible, it is nonetheless terrifying and could be an immediate hazard to your health if you’re driving or walking.
3. Changes in fluid regulation
An interesting fact about potassium deficiency is that it can sometimes be initially misdiagnosed as diabetes (until the appropriate blood and urine tests are ordered). This confusion occurs because both potassium deficiency and diabetes can cause increased urination, and also strong feelings of thirst. So, if you find yourself getting up during the night multiple times in order to use the restroom, your doctor might think of diabetes long before they ever consider an underlying nutritional deficiency.
If your doctor suspects diabetes on the grounds of these types of symptoms, they will order glucose tests… If these glucose tests all come back looking normal and your doctor reassures you that diabetes is not in the picture, be sure to mention that you’ve heard of potassium deficiencies causing these types of symptoms.
It’s common for low potassium levels to induce strong feelings of nausea. These might begin to rise in a subtle way, starting with minor increases in nausea associated with things that always made your stomach a bit queasy (such as lack of food for several hours, or a long ride in the back of a bumpy car). However, as your potassium levels begin to drop further and further, you may start to feel nauseated much more often, and eventually all the time.
If you’re particularly deficient in potassium, this nausea can even progress to vomiting. Unfortunately, regularly vomiting as a result of a potassium deficiency only makes the entire situation that much worse; when you throw up, this causes you to lose even more potassium.
5. A diet high in salt
Excessive consumption of salt is not a symptom caused by potassium deficiency; in other words, you don’t just start craving vast amounts of salt simply because your bodily levels of potassium have dropped below a certain number. However, if you know that you do have a very high salt intake, this can be a useful sign that it’s worth checking whether your potassium reserves are in good shape.
The more sodium there is in your diet, the more potassium you excrete. And the more potassium your body gets rid of in your urine, the less potassium you have at your disposal for all those important tasks (like regulating muscle function and keeping the heart beat regular). If you think you’re ingesting too much salt or you’ve already been warned about your dropping potassium levels, try cutting back on your salt intake and adding more potassium-rich foods to your diet. Bananas, white beans and melons are all great examples.