Hypokalemia and Hyperkalemia- Potassium Imbalance

We have already seen the importance of potassium to the human body.

But, very few people meet the recommended potassium intake.

However, a low potassium intake is rarely the cause of deficiency. Deficiency typically occurs when your body loses a lot of fluid. Potassium is an essential mineral that has many roles in your body. It helps regulate muscle contractions, maintain healthy nerve function and regulate fluid balance.

A low-potassium diet is rarely the cause of potassium deficiency, or hypokalemia. Deficiency is characterized by a blood potassium level below 3.5 mmol per liter.

Signs and symptoms of potassium deficiency – Hypokalemia

1.Weakness and Fatigue

Since potassium helps regulate muscle contractions, deficiency may result in weaker contractions. Also, some evidence shows that a deficiency may impair the body’s handling of nutrients like sugar, which may lead to fatigue.

2. Muscle Cramps and Spasms

Potassium helps start and stop muscle contractions. Low blood potassium levels can affect this balance, causing uncontrolled and prolonged contractions known as cramps.

3. Digestive Problems

Potassium deficiency may cause problems like bloating and constipation because it can slow the movement of food through the digestive system. Some evidence shows that a severe deficiency can paralyze the gut, but it’s not completely clear.

4. Heart Palpitations

Potassium helps regulate the heartbeat, and low levels may cause symptoms like heart palpitations. These palpitations may also be a symptom of arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat, which may be a sign of a serious heart condition.

5. Muscle Aches and Stiffness

Muscle aches and stiffness can be another sign of potassium deficiency and are caused by rapid muscle breakdown (rhabdomyolysis).

6. Numbness

Persistent tingles and numbness may be a sign of impaired nerve function due to potassium deficiency. If you experience persistent tingles and numbness in your hands, arms, legs, or feet, it’s best to see your doctor.

7. Breathing Difficulties

Potassium helps the lungs expand and contract, so potassium deficiency may result in shortness of breath. Also, a severe deficiency may stop the lungs from working, which is fatal.

8. Mood Changes

Potassium deficiency has been linked to mood changes and disorders. However, the link between the two is not entirely clear.


Hyperkalemia is an electrolyte imbalance and is indicated by a high level of potassium in the blood.  The normal adult value for potassium is 3.5-5.3 mEq/L.

Causes of Hyperkalemia

  • Potassium is excreted (or “flushed out” of your system) by your kidneys. Any damage to your kidneys, when they are not working properly, may cause an increase in potassium levels leading to hyperkalemia.
  • People, who receive chemotherapy for leukemia, lymphoma, or multiple myeloma, may be at risk for tumor lysis syndrome, if there is a large amount of disease present.
  • If you are diabetic, an insulin deficiency may cause hyperkalemia.
  • If you are bleeding internally, you may have hyperkalemia.
  • Some medications that contain potassium, or medications that preserve the amount of potassium that is excreted through your kidneys, can cause hyperkalemia. These may include Angiotensin Converting Enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, such as Lisinopril, or potassium-sparing diuretics, such as Spironolactone (e.g., Aldactone).
  • If your kidneys are not able to process and excrete potassium and other electrolytes, due to renal (kidney) failure, you may be at risk for hyperkalemia.
  • Your adrenal glands are important regulators of potassium in your blood. Endocrine or hormonal problems (such as Adrenal insufficiency) can cause hyperkalemia.
  • Salt substitutes (containing potassium) or excessive intake of potassium can lead to hyperkalemia.

Side Effects of Hyperkalemia

  • You may not have any symptoms unless your blood potassium levels are significantly elevated.
  • Muscle weakness.
  • Diarrhea (with very high potassium levels).
  • Chest pain, or heart palpitations.

The Takeaway

Hence striking a balance of potassium intake and excretion is very important to the healthy functioning of a human body.

References: Link1 | Link2

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