Hypokalemia is an electrolyte disorder characterised by low potassium. Potassium is an important mineral needed for normal muscle, heart and nerve function. Without it, the patient may experience arrhythmias, abnormal heartbeat and muscle weakness. These symptoms are usually reversed once the imbalance is corrected.

Signs and symptoms

Mild hypokalemia does not produce any noticeable symptoms. Symptoms such as muscle weakness, heart palpitations, muscle cramping, constipation, vomiting, loss of appetite and arrhythmias occur when the potassium level in the body drops very low.

Causes and Risk Factors

Hypokalemia usually occurs when the patient has lost too much potassium due to diarrhoea, adrenal gland issues, nutritional deficiencies, long term use of laxatives, use of certain medications, barium poisoning or familial hypokalemia. People with prolonged illnesses that cause vomiting and diarrhoea have a high risk of developing hypokalemia.


People with pre-existing heart conditions have a high risk of developing cardiac complications due to hypokalemia. This includes arrhythmias, congestive heart failure and cardiac arrest. Patients may also suffer paralysis.


Hypokalemia is diagnosed on the basis of a blood test that measures blood potassium concentration. The normal range for blood potassium is typically 3.6 to 5.2 millimoles per litre. If your potassium levels are low, the doctor may also recommend an ECG to check heart function.


Treatment for the condition aims to restore potassium levels in the body and address the underlying cause of the potassium imbalance if possible. The patient will be given oral or intravenous fluids and potassium supplements.


Hypokalemia can be prevented by consuming a diet rich in potassium.

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