Low potassium levels in your body may make you ill, but severely elevated potassium levels can be lethal.
The Dangers Of High And Low Potassium Levels In Your Body
What is potassium anyway?
Potassium is a mineral vital to the proper functioning of your body. It is found in many of the foods you eat. Since potassium is needed for your muscles to contract or expand, and for your nerves to send signals throughout your body, too much, or too little can cause serious problems.
Potassium is located primarily inside the cells where it helps regulate water and acids in your blood and body tissues. One of its most important jobs is to help keep your heartbeat regular.
The kidneys are largely responsible for keeping potassium amounts balanced in your body. If you suffer from a kidney problem, you need to be very vigilant about diet and doctor-prescribed medication.
How is potassium level measured?
Most people maintain a satisfactory level of potassium in their blood through the consumption of a healthy diet. When illnesses, excessive intake of potassium rich foods, or certain injuries cause a drastic change in the level, the only sure way to keep track of it is through regular blood tests administered by a doctor. If blood test results show a level of potassium that is too high or too low, recommendations for correcting the problem will be made.
What is a safe potassium level?
A normal blood level range for potassium is between 3.5 and 4.5 while a level of 5.0 to 6.0 should lead to an adjustment in the diet. Many foods are rich in potassium and can be chosen to raise or lower potassium levels. A few of them will be listed later in this article. A blood potassium level of more than 6.0 is cause for concern, and calls for a combination of diet change and possibly medication.
Why should a low potassium level concern us?
The medical term for a low potassium blood level is Hypokalemia. The most common cause for this condition is taking diuretics (water pills) to treat high blood pressure. Kidney problems, vomiting, long-term laxative use, and diarrhea may also contribute to low potassium readings, and in some cases, drugs prescribed for diseases like Cushing’s syndrome are at fault, because they may cause excessive excretion of potassium by the kidneys.
What are the symptoms of a low potassium level?
Low potassium levels are easy to detect because the condition usually exhibits a variety of symptoms. Irregular heartbeat, limpness, leg discomfort, muscle weakness, extreme thirst, frequent urination, cramping, twitching, insomnia, irritability, confusion, impotence, and weight gain may affect those suffering from this disorder. The appearance of several of these symptoms should signal the need for a checkup. This is even more important when the patient suffers from any type of heart disease.
How can low potassium levels be treated?
If you have been diagnosed by your doctor with a low level of potassium in the blood, there are two frequently prescribed treatments.
Usually pursued first is a change in diet. Any doctor can provide a list of foods that are high in potassium, and, by selecting several of these foods daily, a mild potassium deficiency may quickly be brought under control.
Foods often recommended as good sources of potassium include, whole grains, wheat germ, seeds, nuts, spinach, lettuce, broccoli, peas, lima beans, potatoes, parsley, and tomatoes. Fruits that build up potassium levels are apricots, avocados, oranges, and raisins. Potassium-rich fish are salmon, sardines, flounder, and cod, and most meats are also good.
The second most frequent treatment for low potassium levels is the taking of supplements by mouth. Because it is very difficult to maintain the delicate balance of potassium needed by your body, it is always a good idea to take supplements only when recommended to do so by your own doctor. Over-the-counter supplements vary in strength, and you could raise your potassium level so high your health, and perhaps even your life, could be endangered.
Why should we be concerned about high potassium levels?
The medical term used to refer to high potassium levels is Hyperkalemia. Unfortunately, too much potassium in our bodies causes very few symptoms. For that reason, and because the consequences of extremely high potassium levels can be deadly, we need to stay alert to what is going on in our bodies. Most cases of high potassium in the body are only discovered when routine blood tests are being performed.
What causes high potassium levels?
High potassium levels can result from the use of drugs that decrease blood flow to the kidneys, an increase in the intake of food high in potassium, ailments such as Addison’s disease, or from over medicating with potassium supplements.
What are the symptoms of an elevated potassium level?
There are seldom any noticeable symptoms until the condition has advanced to a potentially dangerous stage which could include an abnormal heart rhythm or even complete cessation of the heartbeat.
How Can High Potassium Levels Be Treated?
Mild cases of elevated potassium can be treated by substituting potassium rich foods in your diet for foods that contain little or no potassium. Such a diet would include alfalfa sprouts, okra, mixed vegetables, cucumbers, corn, cauliflower, rice, noodles, bread, most berries, grapes, pears, and cherries, etc. Your doctor can provide you with a more complete list.
Severe cases of elevated potassium should be treated immediately. Potassium absorbing resins can be given by mouth or enema, and induced diarrhea can help expel the excess potassium more quickly. Staying under the supervision and care of medical professionals for treatment is essential.
To be sure your heart and blood vessels stay healthy, the level of potassium in your blood must be balanced. You can help by being sure your diet is a healthy one and by asking your doctor to check your potassium blood level frequently.