11 Signs and Symptoms of Potassium Deficiency


Spasms and muscle cramps, weakness and fatigue, heart palpitations, tingling and numbness, digestive problems, breathing difficulties, muscle aches and stiffness, and mood changes are some of the low potassium symptoms.

Potassium is an important element for the functioning of our bodies. It regulates the balance of various fluids, nerve signals and contraction of muscles. There are various health benefits if the diet is rich in potassium. It reduces blood pressure, stroke, and stones in the kidney.

low potassium symptoms

It is the third most abundant mineral in the body. Approximately 98% of potassium is found in cells from that 80% is present in the muscle cell and 20% is present in other sites in bones, liver, etc. Deficiency of Potassium is also known as Hypokalemia. If the level of potassium is below 3.5 mmol/liter then it is considered as deficient.

In This Article:


Potassium Deficiency: Signs and Symptoms

Spasms and Muscle Cramps

Sudden and uncontrolled contractions are seen during muscle cramps due to low levels of potassium in the blood. Potassium is important in muscle cells as they help in bringing signals from the brain which stimulate contractions. Potassium also helps in relaxing the muscles by moving out of the muscle cells. If the potassium levels are low then muscle cramps are observed.

A small amount of potassium is lost through sweat which implies during heavy sweating may lead to muscle weakness or cramping.

Weakness and Fatigue

The most common and first sign of potassium deficiency is Weakness. As mentioned above potassium regulates muscle contraction. This implies low potassium levels produce weak muscle contraction. It also affects the utilization of other nutrients causing fatigue.

Other mechanisms like impair insulin production resulting in high blood sugar levels due to potassium deficiency.

Heart Palpitations

Heart palpitations are characterized by sudden fast and hard beating of the heart which can be associated with stress and anxiety. Heart Palpitation can also be a sign of potassium deficiency. The flow of potassium in and out of the cardiac cells regulates the heartbeat. Thus low levels of Potassium can alter the flow and cause palpitations. Other than palpitations arrhythmia is also known as an irregular heartbeat can also occur.

Tingling and Numbness

Continous tingles and numbness can be experienced due to deficiency of potassium. The numbness is commonly felt in the hands, arms, legs, and feet which is known as paresthesia. Potassium is important for processing of the nervous system in our body. Low levels of potassium can weaken the nerve signals resulting are tingling and numbness. Occasional numbness and tingling are not dangerous but persistent numbness and tingle is a serious matter of worry.


Digestive Problems

Digestion is an important mechanism of our body. Sometimes potassium deficiency may result in digestive problems. This is because the potassium helps in the relay of signals from the brain to smooth muscles located in the digestive system. These regulate the contraction of the muscles essential for the churning of the food properly for digestion. Due to deficiency of potassium, there can be weak contraction leading to digestive problems such as bloating and constipation. In cases of severe deficiency, gut paralysis may also be seen.

Breathing Difficulties

Breathing difficulties may also be observed due to deficiency of potassium as they help in relaying the signals which stimulate the lungs to contract and expand. In case of severe deficiency, lungs may not contract or expand completely leading to difficulty in breathing such as shortness of breath. This shortness of breath further results in an abnormal heartbeat. Therefore, less amount of blood is pumped from the heart to the remaining body.

Muscle Aches and Stiffness

It is also a sign of severe potassium deficiency. Potassium in the blood determines the potassium in blood flow to the muscles. Due to its deficiency, rapid muscle breakdown occurs which is known as rhabdomyolysis. Sometimes severe low levels can lead to contraction and restriction of blood flow to the muscles by constricting the blood vessels. This implies cells receive a little amount of oxygen which causes them to rupture and leak. Rhabdomyolysis along with muscle stiffness and aches is observed.

Mood Changes

Mental fatigues and mood changes are associated with potassium deficiency. Low levels of potassium disrupt optimum brain functioning. Though a direct link between potassium level and mood changes is not yet established.

When to See a Doctor?

People having inflammatory bowel disease and gastrointestinal disease are more prone to potassium deficiency because of severe diarrhea and vomiting. Laxatives and diuretics are some medications that can cause hypokalemia.


An individual should consult a doctor if there are severe signs of hypokalemia like muscle paralysis, irregular heartbeats, and breathing problems.

Diagnosis of Potassium Deficiency

For diagnosis of hypokalemia simple blood test is to be done by taking blood from a vein in the hand or arm and the level of potassium is determined.

Some additional tests are further blood test just to check the level of other electrolytes and urine test to check the amount of potassium passing in the urine. Some medicines may also cause hypokalemia so patient’s history is also important for diagnosis.

Treatment for Potassium Deficiency

Treatment is given according to the patient’s symptoms and a low level of potassium.


People having mild deficiency:

  • There should be an intake of the diet which is rich in potassium.
  • The medicines that cause potassium deficiency are to be taken in low dose
  • Take medicines like angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers which can increase the level of potassium.
  • Take some potassium supplements daily.

An individual having a severe deficiency is treated immediately by the doctor with intravenous potassium. While treating the patient the doctor should be very careful about the level of potassium because if there is excessive potassium then it will cause hyperkalemia.

Food Sources of Potassium

The daily intake of potassium should be:

  • 3,400 milligram for adult males
  • 2,600 milligram for adult females

Food sources which are rich in potassium are as follows:

Banana, milk, apricots, lentils, dried prunes, orange juice, spinach, chopped broccoli, cooked brown rice, etc.


The best way for an individual to get rid of hypokalemia is that eat a varied and healthy diet.


Potassium deficiency can occur due to various reasons like potassium deficient diet, some medicines, vomiting, and some diseases. The severity of the symptoms depends on the low level of potassium. The best treatment is to eat a diet which is rich in potassium.




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