5 facts and myths about hypokalemia or Low potassium

Hypokalemia, i.e. potassium deficiency in the body, is a common phenomenon – it often accompanies chronic diseases such as heart rhythm disturbances, hypertension, kidney failure or diabetes. Untreated, it leads to serious health consequences. Here are five facts and myths about hypokalemia. It is worth getting to know it better to protect yourself from its effects.

Fact / Myth: Hypokalemia can be dangerous

FACT: Hypokalaemia, or potassium deficiency, is an electrolyte disturbance in which serum potassium levels are below 3.5 mmol / L. Untreated hypokalaemia can be dangerous and, in extreme cases, be fatal. Therefore, even if the patient is not aware that he may suffer from potassium deficiency and is not diagnosed with hypokalemia, symptoms such as general weakness, numbness in the limbs, constipation, muscle spasms, and heart rhythm disturbances should be present make him see a doctor. It should be emphasized that it is not enough for a specialist to identify potassium deficiency alone; it is also important to find the cause of hypokalemia – it directly influences the determination of the treatment process.

Fact / Myth: Hypokalemia harms the heart

Fact: Potassium is an element that protects our heart, so its deficiency (as well as excess) can have disastrous consequences for the body. It should be remembered that hypokalaemia is an independent factor contributing to the development of arrhythmias, including atrial fibrillation. It increases the risk of a heart attack twice and a stroke – up to five times. 

Fact / Myth: Hypokalaemia can develop with medication

Fact: Hypokalaemia can develop with medication. This applies to taking certain drugs used in the treatment of chronic diseases. Most often, it is about: some antibiotics, diuretics and laxatives.

Fact / Myth: Hypokalemia is always accompanied by hypomagnesaemia

Fact: Hypomagnesaemia is too little magnesium in the blood. It is a very important element for the body, influencing the proper functioning of the nervous system, heart, and muscles. Hypomagnesaemia may or may not be associated with the development of hypokalaemia. It is worth knowing that both are electrolyte disturbances and are independent factors contributing to the occurrence of ventricular arrhythmias, fibrillation attacks, atrial flutter and other supraventricular arrhythmias, regardless of age and comorbidities.

Fact / Myth: Hypokalemia is not a disease, so it does not need to be treated

Myth: Hypokalemia is an electrolyte disturbance, not a disease, but in extreme cases, it can even lead to death. Therefore, it can not only be treated but must also be treated. Correct management of such cases depends on the cause and the degree of potassium deficiency in the blood.

Each of us should follow a proper diet rich in potassium (eat bananas, tomatoes, avocados, potatoes, spinach, milk, carrots, oranges, dried fruit and green leafy vegetables). In some diseases and with consistently low levels of potassium, diet alone is unfortunately not enough. Then the doctor introduces the appropriate treatment to supplement the deficiency (while diagnosing the cause), remembering the constant control of the element level. Potassium deficiency should be corrected under medical supervision and with medication, not dietary supplements. Then we can be sure that we will provide the body with as much potassium as it needs. And that it is safe supplementation.

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