What Causes Low Sodium & Potassium Levels?

Updated November 21, 2016

Low levels of potassium, also known as hypokalemia, and low levels of sodium, also known as hyponatremia, can cause a variety of health problems. Minor problems include muscle cramps and aching. More serious complications include brain swelling, which can lead to a coma and death. These problems can be avoided by replenishing sodium and potassium when it leaves the body.

Excessive Vomiting and Diarrhea

Excessive vomiting and diarrhoea can both lead to low levels of sodium and potassium. Both nutrients are lost when a person gets sick. This is why it's important to drink liquids that contain electrolytes when sick. They replenish the lost nutrients. It's also why laxatives should not be used often.

Water Pills

Water pills are a type of diuretic that send a message to the kidneys to remove excess water. The pill causes frequent urination, which can lead to low sodium and potassium. These nutrients exit the body along with excessive water, so it is important that a doctor monitor the usage of these pills.


Antidepressants and pain medications can cause lower levels of sodium and potassium. These medications can cause a person to sweat and urinate more frequently, and the nutrients escape through the sweat glands and urine. Adding potassium and sodium to a daily diet can curb these negative effects.

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About the Author

Megan Richardson began her career as a freelance writer and editor in 2009. She has experience in public relations and event planning, and she worked as a writer's assistant to a published author for more than a year. Her work has also appeared in "The Daily Sentinel." Richardson holds a Bachelor of Arts in communication and journalism from Stephen F. Austin State University