Potassium is a mineral that our body needs to function properly. Our body does not produce Potassium naturally. Eating a balanced diet is the best source of potassium. Hence it is essential that we consume Potassium-rich foods.
Can You Die from Low Potassium? Why is Potassium Important?
Potassium is an electrolyte. Now you might be wondering what are electrolytes and why are they necessary for our bodies. Electrolytes carry an electrical charge and are a type of mineral. When electrolytes are dissolved in our body, they activate cellular, muscular, and nervous system functions. It is particularly necessary for the proper functioning of heart muscle cells. The most important role that potassium plays is to maintain normal fluid levels in our cells.
Potassium ensures that extra sodium is removed from our body which in turn helps in maintaining blood pressure.
Potassium helps in the below body functions:
- Normal Blood Pressure
- pH balance
- Helps in the flexing and contraction of muscles.
- Water balance
Sources of Potassium
Since our body does not produce Potassium naturally, we need to eat Potassium-rich foods. Mentioned below list of potassium-rich foods:
Bananas, Apricots, Pineapples, Oranges, and Kiwi
- Dry fruits
Raisins, dates, and prunes
- Green Leafy Vegetables
- Other vegetables
Potatoes, Carrots, Zucchini, Peas, and Pumpkin
- Whole grains
Millet, Brown rice, and Amaranth
Lima beans, kidney beans, lentils, and pinto beans
- Dairy Products
Milk and Yogurt
Tuna, Cod, Rockfish, Halibut
- Fruit Juices
Juices from Tomatoes, prunes, apricot, orange, and grapefruit
Some other potassium-rich food items are lean meat, molasses, salt substitutes, etc.
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What happens if you have low Potassium?
Hypokalemia is the medical term for a low level of potassium in your body. Normal Potassium level in the blood in adults ranges between 3.6 to 5.2 mmol/L. Hypokalemia can occur due to Potassium loss through vomiting, diarrhea, or laxatives intake. It may also be caused due to some medications or genetic conditions.
A potassium level ranging below 2.5 mmol/L is a fatal situation. This needs urgent medical attention. Potassium makes sure that your muscles, nerves, and heart are functioning properly. Potassium also affects your digestive tract and bones. If potassium deficiency continues, you may experience weakness in muscles, arrhythmias, i.e., abnormal heart rhythm, and in some cases even paralysis.
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Causes of Low Potassium Levels
Hypokalemia is caused by a number of reasons. You can either have it due to not eating potassium-rich foods or taking medications that increase urination. Apart from these two, the following mentioned reasons can also cause Hypokalemia:
- Excessive alcohol use
- Deficiency of folic acid
- Laxatives overuse causing diarrhea
- Excessive sweat production or vomiting
- Medicines to relieve water retention
- Persistent kidney disease
- Diabetic ketoacidosis, a life-threatening complication affecting diabetics.
- Magnesium deficiency, since magnesium is necessary for the absorption of potassium in our body.
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Can You Die from Low Potassium? Symptoms of Low Potassium
Our kidneys function as the stabilizing agent which keeps potassium levels within the range. We lose potassium through urination. Both high and low levels of potassium are worrisome.
However, if you have a temporary potassium deficiency, it can be easily overcome by eating or drinking a balanced meal. But in case, a severe deficiency occurs, you may experience the below symptoms:
- Weakness or extreme fatigue
- Nausea, or vomiting
- Muscle Cramps or spasms
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Can You Die from Low Potassium? Treatment of Hypokalemia
Can you die from low potassium? The answer is yes. Low potassium can cause cardiac arrest and hence result in death. Now, you must be wondering how to find out the level of potassium in your body.
If you have low potassium levels, getting a blood test done is the best diagnostic tool. However, a low potassium level rarely causes symptoms if you are otherwise well. So, keeping an eye on your potassium intake is best.
In case you get a blood test done and your potassium levels come low, visit your doctor. You might also be required to get an ECG done in order to determine the pH levels in your blood. Your doctor may prescribe potassium supplements. In some cases, he/she may alter a medicine that is causing potassium deficiency. Or there are times when Hypokalemia is caused by some underlying disease. Hence treatment of the said disease can help in stabilizing potassium levels.
In cases of severe Hypokalemia, you may be given an intravenous treatment. Normalizing electrolytes level in the blood is the key to curing potassium deficiency. Although, always keep in mind that you must contact your doctor for any additional supplements and not start taking them at your will.
An imbalanced potassium level can always be taken care of by your kidneys if they are healthy. So, eating a balanced diet will keep you from having low potassium levels and hence keep you healthy and well.
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