As mentioned earlier, potassium plays an essential role in neurotransmission. This is the process that transfers information in the form of electrical impulses between neurons and their targets. Low levels of potassium affect the passage of electrical impulses from the skin and muscles to the spinal cord and brain. This leads to abnormal sensations, including numbness, tingling, creeping, and prickling. Also known as paresthesia, these sensations tend to occur in the fingers, hands, toes, and feet. It can also reach other areas including the legs, arms, and head.
Paresthesia is one of the more mild symptoms associated with potassium deficiency. This numb or tingling sensation in the body is often referred to as “falling asleep” or “pins-and-needles”. Although these sensations are not usually painful, they can be unnerving and uncomfortable. The sensations are temporary but will become a regular occurrence if the cause is not addressed.
Paresthesia may also be caused by too much potassium in your body, so pay attention to how much potassium you are consuming. If you find that you are experiencing odd sensations, as well as other symptoms listed, you should definitely attend to your potassium levels. Without normal levels of potassium, your nerves will continue to function abnormally and affect your sense of touch.
However, paresthesia can also be an indication of nerve dysfunctions or neurological disorders. If you recognize paresthesia as your only symptom, then you should consider meeting with a neurologist. Abnormal sensations may also result from the onset of a migraine or anxiety. It is also important to note that sudden numbness not linked to any previous diagnosis, may be a sign of stroke.
Symptoms of muscle weakness or lack of energy may indicate a potassium deficiency. Potassium is so closely tied to energy maintenance, that low levels of the mineral can have dramatic effects on your energy levels. In fact, most major symptoms of hypokalemia are actually related to fatigue. This is tied to the important role potassium plays in the healthy functioning of nerves and muscles. Also, given that potassium is vital for regulating blood pressure, it is no surprise that hypokalemia often causes fatigue.
Low potassium levels can cause your heart rate to significantly decrease, reducing the supply of oxygen to your body’s cells. Without sufficient oxygen supply, you are likely to experience “brain fog”, and dizziness. Potassium is also partially responsible for boosting the metabolism. The mineral does this by helping to break down carbohydrates into glucose and turning them into energy for our body’s use. Without usable energy, we will struggle to function efficiently.
Fatigue caused by hypokalemia may not be immediately noticeable at first. For example, you may find that you are slightly more tired after physical activity than you used to be. Over time, the symptom will turn into extreme feelings of exhaustion that prevent you from living your best life. If left untreated, simply feeling extra tired can result in feeling lightheaded, dizziness, or fainting.
If simple tasks like walking up stairs or making your bed are leaving you exhausted, it is likely that there is an underlying condition behind your fatigue. Even if hypokalemia is not the culprit, there is definitely something wrong with your health and you should consult your doctor. The appropriate treatment of your fatigue will help you feel better within a few weeks.
As mentioned earlier, potassium plays an important role in the maintenance of energy in the body. As one of the main electrolytes, potassium assists in transferring energy to the nervous system, brain, heart, and muscles. In cases of hypokalemia, the heart will send nutrients and oxygen to these areas at a much slower pace. This results in tiredness, dizziness, and feeling lightheaded. In more severe cases, a decline in heart rate may increase the risk of heart failure.
You may further feel dizzy and faint because of hypokalemia, due to the minerals’ essential role in regulating kidney function. If you have an electrolyte imbalance in your body, your kidneys are no longer able to concentrate waste products from your blood. As a result, only water is eliminated from your body. This results in extreme fluid loss and a decline in blood pressure (hypotension). This will lead to dizziness, especially while standing, and can lead to fainting. If you are feeling lightheaded, it is best that you don’t try to stand up on your own before consuming a food rich in potassium.
These symptoms, however, are typically triggered by sharp and severe drops in potassium levels, and not a gradual decline. At first, you may only feel slightly clumsy or unsteady, but these issues will only worsen if left untreated. Over time, the severe fatigue and confusion caused by hypokalemia can cause one to faint.
Insufficient potassium levels are only one cause of fainting. Regardless of the cause, fainting can put you at risk of a severe injury or concussion. Hence, it is important that you consult a doctor immediately if there is no reasonable explanation for you fainting.
Mental Health Conditions
It is important to remember that hypokalemia does not only affect physical health but also influences mental health. Episodes of hallucinations, depression, and psychosis, can be triggered by low potassium levels. Some of the symptoms associated with these mental conditions are often caused by fatigue from hypokalemia. Extreme tiredness can affect your quality of life as it hinders basic functions and activities.
However, mental health problems can also be directly caused by hypokalemia itself. Potassium deficiency can cause hormonal balances in your body that result in episodes of mental conditions. In fact, research has shown that depression and mood swings can develop with changes in nutritional deficiencies. Potassium deficiency is one of these. Furthermore, several studies have shown that subjects with mild depression symptoms, experienced an improvement in their mood after they increased their intake of potassium.
This is not surprising as potassium plays a central part in maintaining neurotransmission and the conduction of electrical impulses in the brain. In fact, potassium handles the transporting of serotonin to the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that promotes feelings of happiness and well-being. This explains why the subjects in the study experienced better moods after they attended to their potassium levels.
Mental lethargy is another symptom of hypokalemia to look out for. This symptom is common because potassium is important for the functioning of our nerves, brain, and energy levels. Thus it is necessary for learning processes and cognitive functions. If you experience difficulty in concentrating, finishing tasks, and retaining information, you may have a potassium deficiency. Mental fatigue can end up leading to stress and frustration at the inability to perform at the desired level. These can, in turn, lead to depression and irritability, if left unaddressed.