Unlike magnesium, potassium is always measured on a blood electrolyte panel and is the most convenient way to follow your potassium levels if your potassium levels are compared from test to test. Even though a 24-hour urine collection is much more accurate, few doctors ever take the trouble to order it.
A normal potassium level is defined as between 3.5 and 5.0 millimoles per liter (mmol/L). Hypokalemia is diagnosed when potassium levels fall below 3.5 mmol/L.
Mild potassium deficiency will generally not present with symptoms. A potassium level lower than 2.5 mmol/L is considered extremely deficient, and symptoms will become more severe as levels reduce.
When serum potassium levels are between 3.5 and 4.0 mmol consider potassium supplementation.
Potassium Deficiency Symptoms
Mild Potassium Deficiency: Below 3.5 mmol/L
Moderate Potassium Deficiency: 2.5-3.5mmol/L
Body wide muscle weakness and pain
Constipation (Note: Potassium deficiency causes decreased intestinal motility as does magnesium deficiency.)
Low blood pressure
Severe Potassium Deficiency: Below 2.5 mmol/L
Muscle weakness, wasting, and paralysis
Intermittent muscle spasms
Painful gut obstructions
Tingling, crawling, numb, or itchy sensations-hands, feet, legs, or arms
Kidney stone formation
Causes of Potassium Deficiency
- Potassium-wasting diuretics - thiazide or furosemide
- Prolonged vomiting or diarrhea
- Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis)
- Overuse of enemas
- Repeated use of laxatives
- Crash diets
- Anorexia nervosa or bulimia
- Excessive sweating with physical exertion
- Kidney disease
- Excessive urination
- Abnormally high production of aldosterone (hyperaldosteronism)
- Magnesium depletion
- Prolonged under nutrition
- Burn patients with fluid loss
- Poor circulation