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12 Signs Of Potassium Deficiency

Potassium is an important mineral that plays various roles in our body. A deficiency in this essential mineral can occur if a person does not get the required amount of potassium from their diet or loses excess of potassium through prolonged vomiting or diarrhea. Potassium deficiency can result in various signs and symptoms that can be irritating and frustrating. Read below to know about 12 signs of Potassium deficiency.

Potassium Deficiency: An Overview

The symptoms of potassium deficiency depend on the severity of the deficiency, however, they can include signs like constipation, high blood pressure, muscle weakness, fatigue, and heart problems. Potassium is an essential mineral required by our body. It helps in regulating muscle contractions, regulating fluid balance, and maintaining healthy nerve functioning.

However, a national survey has found that around 98% of Americans are not meeting their recommended potassium intake. A Western diet is more likely to blame since it favors processed foods over whole plant foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, and beans.(1)

Potassium is required for our body since it is essential for a wide range of functions in the body, including keeping the heart beating. Hypokalemia or severe potassium deficiency occurs when the level of potassium in a person falls below 3.6 millimoles per liter (mmol/L). Doctors consider someone to have hypokalemia or a potentially life-threatening condition when the levels of potassium in their body are less than 2.5 mmol/L.

Now, let us take a look at 12 signs of potassium deficiency.

12 Signs Of Potassium Deficiency:

Muscle Weakness:

There are various ways that potassium deficiency can result in muscle weakness and fatigue. First, potassium aids in regulating muscle contractions. When levels of blood potassium are low, your muscles produce weaker contractions.(2)

Potassium deficiency can affect several muscles in your body, including those in the legs and arms, which can cause general muscle weakness and cramping.

A small amount of potassium is lost from our body through sweat. So, heavy sweating from intense physical activity or being in a hot climate can usually result in muscle weakness or muscle cramping.


Potassium is an essential nutrient present in all of the cells and tissues of our body. When levels of potassium fall, it can affect a wide range of functions in the body significantly, which can result in low energy levels and both mental and physical fatigue.

Some evidence has shown that a deficiency of potassium can impair the production of insulin, thus causing high blood sugar levels.(3)

Digestive Problems:

Digestive problems could be caused due to several reasons, and one of these reasons could be potassium deficiency.

Potassium is the mineral that helps relay signals from the brain to muscles present in the digestive system. These signals stimulate the contractions of muscles that help the digestive system churn and propel food for digestion.(4)

The brain cannot relay signals effectively when blood potassium levels become low. So, contractions in the digestive system might become weaker and it might slow the movement of food. This in turn might result in digestive problems, such as constipation and bloating.(5, 6)

In addition to this, some studies have also suggested that a severe deficiency of potassium might cause the gut to become completely paralyzed.(7)

However, other studies have shown that the link between potassium deficiency and a completely paralyzed gut is not clear completely.(8)

Potassium is a mineral that plays a crucial role in relaying messages from the brain to the muscles and regulating contractions of the muscles. Lower levels of potassium can affect the muscles in your intestines, which can in turn slow down the passage of food and waste. This effect on your intestines can result in bloating and constipation.

High Blood Pressure:

The levels of potassium in a person can affect their blood pressure. Lower levels of potassium can increase blood pressure, especially in people with high sodium or salt intake. Potassium plays an essential role in relaxing the blood vessels, which in turn helps in lowering the blood pressure.

Potassium also aids in balancing the sodium levels in our body. A diet that is high in sodium is a common cause of high blood pressure. Doctors generally recommend that people having high blood pressure should lower their sodium intake and increase the amount of potassium they take.

Heart Palpitation:

Do you ever notice that your heart suddenly beats faster, harder, or skips a beat? This could be one of the 12 signs of potassium deficiency.

This feeling in the heart is known as heart palpitation. This is commonly associated with anxiety and stress. However, heart palpitations could also be one sign of potassium deficiency.(9)

This is because the flow of potassium in and out of the cells in the heart helps in regulating the heartbeat of a person. Lower levels of blood potassium can alter this flow of potassium, thus leading to heart palpitations.(10)

Additionally, heart palpitations might also be a sign of arrhythmia or an irregular heartbeat, and this is also linked with potassium deficiency. However, unlike heart palpitations, arrhythmia has been linked to severe heart conditions.(11, 12)

Muscle Paralysis:

People having severe potassium deficiency or hypokalemia can experience serious muscle paralysis. When the potassium levels in your body become extremely low, the muscles are unable to contract properly and might stop working. So, muscle paralysis is another sign of potassium deficiency.

Muscle Aches And Stiffness:

Muscle aches and stiffness could also be one of the 12 signs of potassium deficiency. These symptoms might indicate rapid muscle breakdown or Rhabdomyolysis.

Blood levels of potassium aid in regulating blood flow to our muscles. When the potassium levels are severely low, our blood vessels can contract and can restrict the flow of blood to our muscles.(13)

This means that muscle cells receive less oxygen and it might cause them to rupture and leak. This, in turn, leads to Rhabdomyolysis, which is accompanied by signs like muscle aches and stiffness.(14)

Tingling And Numbness:

People with potassium deficiency might experience tingles and numbness.(15) This is known as Paresthesis and generally occurs in the arms, hands, legs, and feet.(16)

Potassium is essential for the healthy functioning of your nerves. Low blood levels of potassium could weaken nerve signals, which might cause tingling and numbness.

Though experiencing these symptoms occasionally is harmless, having persistent tingles and numbness might be a sign of an underlying health condition. So, if you are experiencing persistent paresthesis, you should see your doctor.


Our kidneys are known to remove waste products and regulate the levels of fluids and electrolytes like potassium and sodium in the blood. They do this by passing waste and excess electrolytes from the body in our urine.

Moderate-to-severe hypokalemia is known to interfere with the ability of your kidneys to balance the levels of fluid and electrolytes in the bloodstream, and this, in turn, can result in increased urination, known as Polyuria.

Breathing Problems:

The condition of severe hypokalemia can cause breathing problems. Breathing requires the use of many muscles, especially the diaphragm. If someone’s potassium levels become extremely low, these muscles might not work properly. A person might have trouble while taking a deep breath or might feel very short of breath.

Severe potassium deficiency can result in breathing difficulties. It is because potassium helps relay signals that stimulate the contraction and expansion of the lungs.(17)

When the levels of blood potassium are seriously low, your lungs might not properly expand and contract. This causes shortness of breath.(18)

Moreover, low blood potassium can make you short of breath, since it results in the heart to beat abnormally. It means less blood is pumped from the heart to other parts of the body.(19)

Blood delivers oxygen to the body. So, an altered flow of blood might result in shortness of breath.

Apart from this, a severe potassium deficiency might stop your lungs from working, which could be fatal.(20)

Irregular Rhythms Of The Heart:

An irregular rhythm of the heart is an important symptom of hypokalemia. Potassium plays a crucial role in regulating the contractions of all muscles, which also include the heart muscle.

Extremely low levels of potassium in your body can result in irregular heart rhythms, including ventricular tachycardia, sinus bradycardia, and ventricular fibrillation. If someone does not receive treatment, these conditions could be life-threatening.

Irregular heart rhythms can be detected by using an EKG or electrocardiogram.

Changes In Mood:

Potassium deficiency is linked to mood changes and mental fatigue. Low levels of potassium might disrupt the signals that help in maintaining optimal functioning of the brain.(21)

Say for, example, one study has found that 20% of patients suffering from any kind of mental disorder had a potassium deficiency.(22)

However, there is limited evidence in the case of potassium deficiency and mood. More research is required on this.

Know When To See A Doctor:

People experiencing symptoms of hypokalemia or potassium deficiency must see their doctor. Hypokalemia is quite common in patients with Inflammatory bowel disease or IBD and gastrointestinal illnesses that result in severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhea.

Specific medicines, such as diuretics and laxatives, can also increase the risk of potassium deficiency. It is essential to seek immediate medical attention if you experience symptoms of severe hypokalemia, like breathing problems, muscle paralysis, or irregular heart rhythms.


Potassium deficiency can occur if someone does not take enough potassium in their diet. Severe diarrhea or vomiting, Inflammatory bowel disease or IBD, and specific medications can increase your risk of suffering from potassium deficiency. Symptoms of severe potassium deficiency depend on the severity of the condition, however, the most common symptoms are muscle problems, constipation, fatigue, and heart problems. One with severe potassium deficiency must get proper treatment and at the right times to prevent any complications.

The best way to prevent potassium deficiency is to eat foods that are high in potassium. You can get enough potassium from fruits and vegetables.


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Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:January 15, 2021

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