According to statistics, hypokalemia (low potassium level) is mostly found in females, especially, elderly women. Here is a brief overview of the symptoms of this condition.
Potassium is an essential mineral that is required for the smooth functioning of the human body. Apart from maintaining the electrolyte balance in the body, potassium plays a key role in some of the cellular functions, including cell respiration. An electrolyte in itself, a major part of the potassium in our body is found inside the cells.
Maintaining the right potassium levels in the body is necessary, as it is needed for nerve function and muscle control, and for maintaining normal blood pressure. So, abnormally low or high levels of potassium can result in some symptoms, that can be mild to severe. Though potassium deficiency is found in both genders, women are said to be more prone to this condition.
Low Potassium Levels ~ Hypokalemia
Blood tests are conducted to detect the level of potassium in the body. The normal potassium level ranges between 3.6 to 4.8 milliequivalents per liter (mEq/L). While adults have a normal range of 3.5 – 5.2 mEq/L, in case of kids, it is 3.4 to 4.7 mEq/L. The normal potassium level in infants is 4.1 – 5.3 mEq/L, and for newborns it is 3.7 to 5.9 mEq/L.
While a slight variation can be rectified with potassium supplements and dietary changes, an abnormally low level of potassium is an emergency condition that requires immediate medical attention. In normal cases, the daily intake of potassium is found to be around 70 to 100 mEq. Excess amounts of potassium is excreted mainly by the kidneys. So, certain health problems of the kidneys can affect the normal potassium level. They include chronic kidney failure, renal tubular acidosis, intake of diuretics, elevated corticosteroid levels, adrenal tumors, and elevated levels of aldosterone (primary aldosteronism).
Low potassium levels can also be caused by incessant vomiting or diarrhea, excess use of laxatives, eating disorders, and presence of villous adenoma. Even intake of certain drugs, like prednisone and amphotericin B, may lead to this condition. Vomiting during pregnancy is one of the causes of potassium deficiency in pregnant women. It has been observed that, potassium deficiency rarely develop due to eating habits or a potassium-deficient diet.
Signs and Symptoms of Low Potassium in Women
In case of mild potassium deficiency, the symptoms may go unnoticed. However, a sharp drop may lead to a host of potassium deficiency symptoms, of which, some can be fatal. In mild cases, such symptoms include muscle cramps, pain, muscle weakness, constipation, tingling, and numbness. The person may also experience palpitations or irregular heartbeats that can be seen in an electrocardiogram (ECG). Such potassium deficiency is also linked to nausea and vomiting, abdominal cramping, and bloating.
In severe cases, the symptoms can be life-threatening. In severe potassium deficiency, the affected person may pass large amounts of urine, and feel thirsty all the time. Some people may faint due to variations in normal blood pressure. It has also been noted that low potassium symptoms in women include emotional problems, like depression, confusion, delirium, hallucinations, and psychosis. Dangerous arrhythmia, paralysis, and breathing problems may also develop, in case of severe potassium deficiency.
The symptoms may vary with the severity of the condition and the underlying cause. Even the treatment for potassium deficiency may vary from one person to another, on the basis of these factors. While those with potassium levels above 3.0 mEq/liter, are usually treated with oral supplements; intravenous administration of supplements may be required, if the levels drop below this mark. The mode of treatment varies with the patient’s health condition.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice. Visiting your physician is the safest way to diagnose and treat any health condition.