As a woman, you are constantly on the go as you juggle the responsibilities of work and family. You take care of everyone’s needs first and only consider your own health and well-being when time allows. You make it to your yearly exams, so you think that is good enough. Your blood results came back, everything looks pretty good, but your potassium levels are a little low. No problem, how important can potassium really be anyway? You may believe a low potassium level is nothing more than an insignificant blip on your health radar, but there are many health problems associated with it.
Your blood potassium level should fall between 3.6 and 5.2 millimole per liter. Anything that falls below 3.6 is low and 2.5 millimole or lower is considered very low, according to the Mayo Clinic. Low potassium can occur due to a condition called primary aldosteronism, also called Conn Syndrome. Primary aldosteronism occurs when your adrenal glands produce too much of the hormone aldosterone, which usually happens because of the presence of benign tumors. Aldosterone maintains blood volume and blood pressure and balances the electrolytes in the blood, including sodium and potassium. If your low potassium is a result of this condition, you probably also suffer from high blood pressure. It is important for you to seek medical advice because this is one of the few causes of high blood pressure that can be cured. Just think, you can get your potassium levels back to normal and reduce your blood pressure without a lifetime commitment to medications.
High Blood Pressure
As discussed, a low potassium level may occur in conjunction with high blood pressure. These two conditions can be associated even in the absence of primary aldosteronism. You are probably aware of the link between your salt intake and blood pressure, but potassium intake is nearly as important. Potassium lessens the effects of sodium, so a low potassium level lets sodium take over, causing an increase in blood pressure. If your potassium level is slightly low, try increasing your daily intake by eating potassium-rich foods such as potatoes, spinach, lima beans, bananas, cantaloupe, peas and tomatoes.
Diabetes occurs when your body fails to produce enough of the hormone insulin. Insulin helps your cells use glucose, the form of sugar in the blood, for energy. Without insulin, glucose remains in your blood and can damage cells, tissues and organs. When this occurs, your body breaks down fat to use as fuel and during this process produces toxic acids in the blood called ketones. This condition is known as diabetic ketoacidosis. Your body tries to flush these ketones out by increasing urine output. When your kidneys pull water from your blood to produce more urine, they also filter out more potassium, causing low potassium levels. Treatment for diabetic ketoacidosis includes replenishing fluids and electrolytes to bring them back into balance.
A low potassium level, a condition known as hypokalemia, can cause disturbances with nerve, muscle and heart function. Early symptoms of hypokalemia include weakness, lack of energy and muscle cramps. Because potassium works with the other electrolytes, sodium, magnesium and calcium, to stimulate muscle cells, including the heart muscle cells, to contract, too little interrupts the normal heart rhythm, causing an irregular heartbeat and an abnormal electrocardiogram.
Stephanie Chandler is a freelance writer whose master's degree in biomedical science and over 15 years experience in the scientific and pharmaceutical professions provide her with the knowledge to contribute to health topics. Chandler has been writing for corporations and small businesses since 1991. In addition to writing scientific papers and procedures, her articles are published on Overstock.com and other websites.