What are the signs and symptoms of hypokalemia (low potassium level)?

Updated: Dec 06, 2018
  • Author: Eleanor Lederer, MD, FASN; Chief Editor: Vecihi Batuman, MD, FASN  more...
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Answer

The symptoms of hypokalemia are nonspecific and predominantly are related to muscular or cardiac function. Weakness and fatigue are the most common complaints. The muscular weakness that occurs with hypokalemia can manifest in protean ways (eg, dyspnea, constipation or abdominal distention, exercise intolerance). Rarely, muscle weakness progresses to frank paralysis. With severe hypokalemia or total body potassium deficits, muscle cramps and pain can occur with rhabdomyolysis.

Occasionally, a patient may complain of worsening diabetes control or polyuria due to a recent onset of hyperglycemia or nephrogenic diabetes insipidus. Patients also may complain of palpitations. Psychological symptoms may include psychosis, delirium, hallucinations, and depression. [45]

Patients are often asymptomatic, particularly with mild hypokalemia. Symptoms that are present are often from the underlying cause of the hypokalemia rather than the hypokalemia itself.


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