Low potassium (hypokalaemia)
Low potassium self-care at home
If you are monitoring low potassium levels, avoid long, strenuous physical activities. Loss of potassium can occur with sweating.
If dietary supplements, herbal supplements or laxatives are causing the low potassium symptoms, avoid taking these products and seek medical advice. Never stop taking a prescribed medication without first consulting your doctor.
Low potassium medical treatment
Potassium replacement therapy will be directed by the type and severity of a person's symptoms. Treatment begins after laboratory tests confirm the diagnosis.
People suspected of having severely low potassium need to be placed on a cardiac monitor and have an IV (drip) started.
Usually, those with mild or moderately low potassium levels (2.5-3.5 mmol/L), who have no symptoms, or who have only minor complaints, only need to be treated with potassium given in pill or liquid form. Some preparations, or too high a dose, may irritate the stomach and cause vomiting.
If cardiac arrhythmias or significant symptoms are present or if the potassium level is less than 2.5 mmol/L, IV potassium should be given. In this situation, admission for observation to an accident and emergency unit may be advised. Replacing potassium takes several hours as it must be administered very slowly intravenously to avoid heart problems.
For those with severely low potassium and symptoms, both IV potassium and oral medication are necessary.
When potassium is used with medications such as ACE inhibitors for managing blood pressure, there is a risk of developing a high level of potassium.
Potassium-sparing diuretics and potassium-containing salt substitutes can also result in high potassium levels.
Low potassium follow-up
Usually doctors recommend a certain dosage of potassium supplements and arrange to have a repeat blood level test taken two to three days later.
The doctor may consider switching to potassium-sparing diuretics (water pills) if the patient needs to continue taking diuretics for another condition.
Low potassium prevention
A change in diet may be recommended if the patient is likely to develop low potassium levels.
Examples of foods high in potassium include:
- Cantaloupe melons
Do not overuse diuretics (water pills) and never use someone else's medicines.
If the person is taking medication, ask the doctor how often electrolyte levels need to be checked.
Low potassium outlook
Low potassium is treatable. The reason for the low potassium must be diagnosed or it will probably reoccur. With the right therapy, usually there are no further problems.