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How to Recognize the Signs and Symptoms of Low Potassium Hypokalemia

Updated on December 14, 2014
The casue of Hypokalemia is low potassium in the blood cells. Recognising the symptoms is important as Hypokalemia may be asymptomatic and therefore doesn't display external signs.
The casue of Hypokalemia is low potassium in the blood cells. Recognising the symptoms is important as Hypokalemia may be asymptomatic and therefore doesn't display external signs. | Source

The 6 Signs and Symptoms of Hypokalemia

Hypokalemia is an electrolyte imbalance occurring in the human body. Its primary effect equals a reduction in the level of potassium within the blood, hence the use of the hypo-prefix. The opposite being hyper, which stands for an increase beyond the norm. The kidney refuses to release potassium into the bloodstream because the adrenal gland fails to generate the necessary hormone (aldosterone) for signalling this release to occur. The kidney remains in a state of hormone release paralysis.

Potassium remains an extremely important element within the body. It’s essential for the normal functioning of the heart, including nerve and muscle activity, reducing blood pressure, regulating fluids within the body, while remaining essential for protein and nucleic acid synthesis.

Sufferers from hypokalemia will show the following signs:

Muscle weakness with cramps

The low potassium levels in the blood cause a distortion in the signals from the brain to the muscles. The lag effect from nerve cell to nerve cell, causes many signals becoming entangled. The result illustrates decreased muscle strength. As potassium remains responsible for muscle function, its lack within the body, causes muscles to function intermittently. Thus cramps become a regular occurrence in the hypokalemia sufferer.

Heart anomalies

The heart will often have an abnormal beat, as it too becomes affected by the low potassium levels. The heart’s predominantly a muscle therefore potassium remains a crucial element to regulate its normal functions.

Excessive thirst

The need to drink excessively, also unfortunately causes more body minerals to pass into the urine, thus exacerbating the electrolyte imbalance. By drinking more water the potassium levels decrease even further.

Hypokalemia sufferes feel cramps, fatigue, weakness, confusion - all of these can be treated once the sickness is identified.
Hypokalemia sufferes feel cramps, fatigue, weakness, confusion - all of these can be treated once the sickness is identified.

Confusion, fatigue and possible hallucinations

As potassium functions as an electrolyte, its reduction effects the functioning of the brain. This leads to the feeling of confusion, depression, sometimes even hallucinations as the performance of the brain drops to extremely low levels of normality. The human brain simply isn't functioning the way it's supposed too.

Anorexia

In contrast to the need to drink excessively, hypokalemia can cause the sufferer to eat less. This loss of appetite greatly affects the intake of potassium occurring naturally in foods. Negatively this imbalance contributes to the already deficient potassium levels within the person suffering from hypokalemia.

Diarrhoea

The reduced potassium levels consequently affect the body's ability to regulate fluids. When disturbed this regulation results in diarrhoea as the kidneys are unable to effectively regulate body waste in the proper manner. Diarrhoea also leads to further mineral loss from the body.

What may seem a simple mineral remains of great importance to the normal functioning of the human body. Many of the signs and symptoms of hypokalemia can easily be confused with temporary illnesses. It’s essential to seek the advice of a professional paediatrician who will be able to check the potassium levels in the blood.

The Hypokalemia Check

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The SIC WALT Mnemonic for remembering the signs and symptoms of Hypokalemia. Once you have confirmed you have this disease you can begin treating it.
The SIC WALT Mnemonic for remembering the signs and symptoms of Hypokalemia. Once you have confirmed you have this disease you can begin treating it.

Hypokalemia Symptoms and SIC WALT Mnemonic Memory Device

The formation of the Mnemonic for Hypokalemia Symptoms is as below:

  • Shallow Respirations
  • Intestinal Motility, Nausea, Vomiting, Ileus, Irratibility
  • Confusion, drosiness
  • Weakness and Fatigue
  • Arrythmias (irregular heart beat) - Tachycardia (rapid heart beat) Bradycardia (slow heart) Alkaosis (lack of Alkalines in the body causing cramps)
  • Lethargy
  • Thready Pulse


Becomes SIC WALT Mnemonic - remember this so you can recognise Hypokalemia

There are many treatments available for people suffering from Hypokalemia. IV drips and oral supplements are an option as well as diet changes and eating superfoods
There are many treatments available for people suffering from Hypokalemia. IV drips and oral supplements are an option as well as diet changes and eating superfoods

Treatment Options for Hypokalemia

Hypokalemia sufferers experience an electrolyte imbalance in their blood supply. The primary effect of this illness is a reduction in the level of potassium within the person’s blood level. The “hypo” structure of the word hypokalemia indicates that this is a reduction illness. The opposite exists as “hyper”, indicating an increase. The decline in potassium is caused by the kidney refusing to release potassium into the bloodstream. This is due to the adrenal gland failing to produce the required hormone (aldosterone) for signalling this release to occur. The kidney remains in a state of hormone release paralysis.

Potassium within the blood supply remains an extremely important element. Within the human body potassium’s essential for the normal functioning of the heart, including separate nerve and muscle activity, reducing blood pressure, regulating fluids within the body, while remaining essential for protein and nucleic acid synthesis.

A sufferer of hypokalemia fortunately has several treatment options available, although the treatment depends on the severity of the illness. Mild cases can involve self-regulated supplements or potassium replacement therapy. Medium to severe cases often require IV (intravenous) treatments.

Oral potassium replacements

Mineral supplements in terms of potassium levels, remains a viable option. An active part of treatment is to keep your potassium levels consistent. Self-administered medicines provide a large element of self-care in mild cases.

Bodily potassium replacements

IV tubes can provide the body with the necessary solutions to ensure potassium levels remain accurate. The amount required by your body remains constant when using IV treatment. This treatment is often used in mild to severe cases and will require hospitalisation to administer correctly. Observational data can then assist recovery.

Your doctor will advise if you need to take pottasium cholride if you are suffering from Hypokalemia. Also seek medical advice if you are unsure about your health.
Your doctor will advise if you need to take pottasium cholride if you are suffering from Hypokalemia. Also seek medical advice if you are unsure about your health.

The use of Potassium Chloride in treatment

Potassium chloride is preferable for both oral and bodily administration, as it raises the plasma potassium concentration and helps neutralise metabolic alkalosis. Often vomiting combined with diarrhoea reduces the body’s chloride and potassium levels trough the associated metabolic alkalosis.

Diuretics and Potassium rich food

If you need to use diuretics to encourage urination, your doctor will advise you to switch to a type that keeps potassium in the body.

Eating food rich in potassium is more a preventative act than an actual treatment. Potassium rich foods include bananas, peanut butter, granola, peaches, and bran.

TPP thyroid complications

In hypokalemia caused by thyrotoxic periodic paralysis (TPP), treatment is targeted at lowering the thyroid hormone level.

If you display any signs associated with hypokalemia it’s essential you seek professional medical advice. Once a full diagnosis is provided treatment options will primarily focus on the severity of the illness.

High potassium foods such as brussel sprouts, broccoli, avacado, apricots, bananas and almonds are super foods when it comes to changing your Hypokalemia diet.
High potassium foods such as brussel sprouts, broccoli, avacado, apricots, bananas and almonds are super foods when it comes to changing your Hypokalemia diet.

Homemade recipes for treating Hypokalemia – The Coconut as Alternative health

As the treatment of this disease is primarily focused on the chemical deficiency of potassium, it’s a good idea to think of ways to supplement your diet. These are homemade treatments, an alternative to traditional pharmaceutical medicines, and it’s advisable you seek advice from your doctor before relying solely on homemade recipes for treating Hypokalemia.

Coconut water

Pure Coconut water is very high in minerals especially those that help treat the disease. So ensure this is a staple part of your diet change. Alternately if you like chilled drinks just prepare Coconut Ice cubes and add these to your favourite drinks. This way you’ll be absorbing rich treatment foods without realising it.

Fresh Coconut is high in potassium and sodium. It can help you to replace electrolytes lost when suffering from diarrhoea whilst suffering from Hypokalemia. It's the best drink to take.
Fresh Coconut is high in potassium and sodium. It can help you to replace electrolytes lost when suffering from diarrhoea whilst suffering from Hypokalemia. It's the best drink to take.

The mineral contents and nutritional content of fresh Coconut water:

A typical sample of 100 ml of fresh pure coconut water has 250 mg of potassium and contains 105 mg of sodium. These amazing electrolytes will help replenish and restore your electrolyte deficiencies (lost during vomiting or diarrhoea) in your body due to bowel movements.

B-Complex vitamins:

  • Riboflavin
  • Niacin
  • Thiamin
  • Pyridoxine
  • Folates

Standard Vitamins found in coconut water:

  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin K

Minerals that are found in fresh Coconut water:

  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Manganese
  • Magnesium
  • Copper
  • Zinc

Cucumber is  agreat source of potassium which can help treat Hypokalemia once you've identified the signs and symptoms
Cucumber is agreat source of potassium which can help treat Hypokalemia once you've identified the signs and symptoms

The use of Cucumber in treating low potassium diseases

Use this as a base for a treatment as it has very high levels of Potassium. If you want to cut out indigestion issues then remove the skin (as this is what causes indigestion) and blend the remainder into a smoothie. You can also add your Coconut ice cubes to give you an extra Potassium health boost.

Snack foods to treat Hypokalemia that you may find a refreshing idea. Consider eating bananas, apples and cheese as snacks but this has to form a part of your overall eating habits to help treat Hypokalemia. Balance is the key when eating all foods, so ensure you’re getting good advice in the first instance to help your treat your disease.

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Signs and Symptoms of Hypokalemia Video

Summary

6 Signs and Symptoms of Hypokalemia

  • Muscle weakness with cramps
  • Heart anomalies
  • Excessive thirst
  • Confusion, fatigue and possible hallucinations
  • Anorexia
  • Diarrhoea

Treating Hypokalemia – Alternative health and traditional medicine

  • Oral or Body (intravenous) replacements of essnetial minerals
  • Potassium Chloride to be taken orally
  • Change to diet to include foods rich in essential minerals
  • Alternative health - such as Fresh coconut and cucmber

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