Potassium is an important part of everyday life. It’s responsible for multiple functions within the human body. Insufficient intake of this essential mineral can lead to hypokalemia, a condition characterised by low levels of potassium in the blood. Many people suffer from hypokalemia and don’t even know it. For this reason, it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the symptoms of potassium deficiency.



Apart from certain diseases, malabsorption disorders and medications, inadequate potassium intake through your diet can cause hypokalemia. Having a poor diet consisting of unhealthy foods or meals can severely deprive you of the nutrients you need. Some people opt to rely on dietary supplements, but the best way to meet your daily nutritional requirements is through the food you eat.

Luckily, plenty of foods are rich in potassium. Good sources of the mineral include bananas, apricots, squash, prunes, potatoes, beans, lentils, spinach and salmon. The amount of potassium you must consume each day depends on your sex and age. According to the National Health and Medical Research Council, men over 40 years old must take 3,800mg per day.


An abnormal heart rhythm, otherwise known as cardiac arrhythmia, is one of the more life-threatening symptoms of potassium deficiency. An irregular heartbeat is a key characteristic of this condition.

Studies have shown that abnormal heart rhythms can be caused by hypokalemia. One study published in Pediatric Nephrology presents a young girl with cardiac arrhythmias suffering from Bartter Syndrome and severe hypokalemia. Another one found in the American Journal of Medicine shows a higher risk of ventricular arrhythmias in patients with potassium deficiency.


Potassium plays a key role in digestive function, particularly when it comes to contractions. When you don’t have enough of the nutrient in your body, these contractions may weaken, resulting in constipation as food moves too slowly. Of course, it’s important to note that constipation may also be a sign of other conditions. Given this information, you mustn’t immediately jump to any conclusions.


A common symptom of hypokalemia is fatigue or weakness. Potassium plays a role in several cellular processes within the human body. A lack of potassium impedes these processes. As a result, you feel extremely tired or fatigued.

It’s normal to feel tired every now and then, especially after strenuous activity or a long work week. However, excessive or chronic tiredness can be a sign of something more serious.


The heart requires potassium to regulate blood pressure, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that low levels of the mineral can lead to hypertension. A study published in Clinical and Experimental Hypertension concluded that blood pressure rises when potassium levels go down. Another study found in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology indicated that potassium helps control blood pressure.


Potassium is a major player in the regulation of muscle contractions. Insufficient intake of this mineral can lead to involuntary spasms or cramps. Your muscles may also begin to feel weak, as a study published in the Southern Medical Journal found. Another study published in the Western Journal of Medicine investigated potassium deficiency as a cause of tetany, a condition characterised by intermittent muscle spasms.


Muscle pain is another one of the muscle-related symptoms of potassium deficiency. In more severe cases of hypokalemia, rhabdomyolysis may even occur. This condition is marked by the rapid breakdown of skeletal muscles — a process that can bring you immense muscle pain.

A study published in the Indian Journal of Nephrology investigated rhabdomyolysis as an outcome of potassium deficiency. Another study, found in the World Journal of Clinical Cases, presented a 30-year-old female suffering from rhabdomyolysis following severe hypokalemia. Rhabdomyolysis may also involve vomiting and can be particularly hazardous as it can lead to kidney failure.


By now, it’s fairly obvious that potassium is a critical factor in the control of muscle contractions. When left untreated, hypokalemia can worsen and cause you to lose muscle function, leaving part or parts of your body paralysed.

Another sign of potassium deficiency is hyporeflexia, which is characterised by little to zero reflexes. It must be noted that paralysis and hyporeflexia aren’t symptoms exclusive to hypokalemia. If you experience one or both of these, it’s best to consult a professional.


More commonly known as tingling of the hands and feet, paresthesia is one of the signs of hypokalemia. This is because potassium plays a key role in proper nerve function. When you’re deficient in the mineral, you nerve signals can decline, causing a tingling or numbing sensation in your hands and feet.

It must be noted that isolated bouts of paresthesia may be nothing to worry about. However, if you begin to experience it constantly, it may be due to a potassium deficiency or something else entirely. In that case, it’s a good idea to consult your physician.


Potassium is needed for the proper skeletal muscle function. A lack of potassium can affect this role, which can lead to respiratory depression. Hypokalemia has also been linked to respiratory failure or arrest.

A study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine presented a 36-year-old woman that went into acute respiratory arrest, which resolved after potassium chloride was administered to her. Another study found in the Journal of Toxicology: Clinical Toxicology arrived at a similar result when a 34-year-old man suffered from respiratory failure due to rhabdomyolysis — another symptom of potassium deficiency.


Trouble breathing can stem from various conditions. But if you haven’t been eating a lot of potassium-rich foods, you may want to look into hypokalemia as the culprit.

As discussed previously, the essential mineral helps regulate muscle contractions. Your lungs both contract and expand as you breathe. When this process is impeded, you begin to have difficulty getting air in and out of your lungs.

All things considered, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that potassium is a mineral you can’t live without. It performs several functions within the body, all of which can be hazardous to your health when in short supply. These symptoms of potassium deficiency must be enough to scare you into adopting a healthier diet.


Anthony Hill

When you put together the sum total of my 30 years of bodybuilding training, the contests, the vast array of diets I have experimented (tortured) myself with as well as the experiences I have been through with various training partners in the gyms I have trained in all over the world, it’s been a great ride and I wouldn’t change it for anything. Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to be able to do lots of personal training for private clients alongside my day job. For a few years during my 30’s, I moved to Asia and worked as the Fitness Manager and head personal trainer at one of Thailand’s leading gyms in Bangkok. Learn More

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