You may not think about potassium very often, but it’s an essential mineral that your body needs to function properly. Potassium is found in many foods, including fruits, vegetables, legumes, and dairy products. It’s also available in supplement form.
Your body needs potassium for several important functions, including muscle contraction, heart function, and water balance. A potassium deficiency can lead to serious health problems, such as high blood pressure and kidney disease. Symptoms of low potassium in the blood can be difficult to identify because they’re often subtle. Recognizing the early warning signs is essential for maintaining good health.
Symptoms of Low Potassium You Shouldn’t Ignore
1. Weakness and fatigue
Potassium plays a key role in muscle contraction. So, it’s not surprising that one of the first signs of a potassium deficiency is weakness and fatigue. If you find yourself feeling tired all the time, even after a good night’s sleep, it could be a sign that your potassium levels are too low.
2. Muscle cramps
If you can’t seem to get rid of those pesky muscle cramps, low potassium (hypokalemia) might be to blame. Potassium is essential for maintaining muscle function. When levels are too low, you may experience cramping, particularly in your legs and feet.
Constipation is another common symptom of a potassium deficiency. This is because potassium is crucial for healthy bowel function. If you’re not getting enough potassium, your digestive system can’t work properly, leading to constipation.
4. Heart palpitations
Without enough potassium, your heart may not be able to beat as strongly or regularly as it should. This can lead to an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) and, in some cases, heart palpitations — a sensation that your heart is racing or pounding.
5. High blood pressure
Potassium helps to regulate blood pressure by balancing sodium levels in the body. When you have low potassium, it can cause your blood pressure to increase.
6. Tingling or numbness
Low potassium levels can cause tingling or numbness in the arms or legs. This is because potassium is necessary for proper nerve function.
7. Muscle aches and stiffness
When you’re low on potassium, your muscles can become aches and stiff. This is especially common in the morning after lying in bed for an extended period of time.
Potassium helps to regulate fluid balance in the body. So, when levels are low, you may experience swelling, particularly in the ankles or feet.
The bottom line
Potassium is an essential nutrient that plays a vital role in keeping your body functioning properly. Unfortunately, a potassium deficiency is all too common, especially among older adults. Symptoms of low potassium can include fatigue, muscle weakness, changes in blood pressure, and an irregular heartbeat. To prevent deficiency, make sure you’re getting enough potassium in your diet by eating foods like bananas, oranges, broccoli, and sweet potatoes or by taking a supplement. If you have any concerns about your potassium levels or are experiencing any symptoms of deficiency, be sure to speak with your doctor.