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How to treat symptoms of low potassium levels

Updated February 21, 2019

Potassium is one of the minerals that functions as a positive electrolyte to maintain water balance in the body. Common symptoms of potassium deficiency include dry mouth and extreme thirst, weakness, fatigue, and muscle cramps. Low potassium levels in the blood can be caused by illness, poor diet or the use of diuretics, certain heart medications or corticosteroid drugs. Fortunately, symptoms of potassium deficiency can be treated successfully by following your doctor's instructions carefully.

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  1. Get the recommended daily intake of potassium, which is 2000 to 3500 mg regardless of how many calories you consume. Athletes and pregnant women may need more potassium to prevent fatigue and control blood pressure. More senior adults are also increasing the potassium in their diets to lower blood pressure and the risk of cardiovascular disease caused by consuming too much salt.

  2. Avoid excessive use of laxatives and aspirin, which can affect the balance of potassium in the body causing an irregular heartbeat and muscle pain and weakness. Healthy potassium levels promote regular heartbeat and normal muscle contractions.

  3. Eat foods high in potassium, a mineral found in some quantity in most meats, fruits, and vegetables. Bananas, yams, citrus fruits, apricots, watermelon, prunes, raisins, dates, and cantaloupe are all potassium rich foods. Including milk, whole grains, broccoli, spinach, asparagus, potato skins, carrots, salmon, sardines, and molasses in your diet can help boost potassium levels as well. Your body should get enough potassium if you eat a well balanced diet.

  4. Use a salt substitute that contains potassium chloride, but ask your doctor first, as salt substitutes can be dangerous to people who have certain medical conditions including diabetes or kidney disease. Individuals with impaired kidney function are unable to eliminate excess potassium from the body. The condition can have serious, even life-threatening consequences, whereas people with healthy kidneys usually have no trouble ridding the body of too much potassium.

  5. Treat the symptoms of low potassium with OTC drugs or prescription medications. Doctors do not recommend taking over-the-counter potassium supplements unless patients discuss a proper dosage in advance. Potassium can build up in the body, and often people take too much when trying to treat potassium deficiencies themselves. Your physician may choose to prescribe a potassium supplement so that he can monitor potassium levels in the blood and watch for any symptoms of too much potassium.

  6. Take all medications as directed by your physician or pharmacist. Ask your doctor about other medications for controlling high blood pressure, which may not be as likely to deplete the body of potassium. Diuretics, which are often used to treat hypertension and high blood pressure, work by aiding the body in excreting salt and fluid. Excreting other key nutrients from the body is a common side effect.

  7. Limit the consumption of alcohol and caffeine, as too much of either can cause electrolyte imbalances. Alcohol can also increase the side effects of certain drugs prescribed to treat low potassium.

  8. Consult your doctor for treatment of possible underlying medical causes of potassium deficiency. These may include hyperthyroidism or an inherited condition known as familial periodic paralysis, in which case a person may suffer sporadic attacks of muscle weakness or paralysis.

  9. Tip

    Side effects of potassium supplements include diarrhoea, nausea, and vomiting. If symptoms persist, discontinue use and call your doctor. Make sure your doctor knows about any drug allergies, kidney problems, heart disease, or history of stomach ulcers before prescribing potassium.


    A diet low in potassium and high in sodium can cause an increase in blood pressure. Contact your doctor immediately if you have severe vomiting or stomach pain, or black, tarry stools and blood in your stool while taking potassium supplements, as these symptoms can be signs of internal bleeding.

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About the Author

Amber Keefer

Amber Keefer has more than 25 years of experience working in the fields of human services and health care administration. Writing professionally since 1997, she has written articles covering business and finance, health, fitness, parenting and senior living issues for both print and online publications. Keefer holds a B.A. from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and an M.B.A. in health care management from Baker College.

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