The cells in the body have electrolytes that perform a majority of the bodily functions. One of the main electrolytes is potassium and is critical to the maintenance of electrical potential within the cells.
The condition of the body that indicates low potassium is known as Hypokalemia.
Low levels of potassium in women can result in severe impairment of the bodily functions. Normal levels of potassium are defined as 3.5-5.0 mEq/L while low level of potassium is below 3.5 mEq/L. (Milliequivalents per liter of blood is denoted by mEq/L).
Symptoms of low potassium in women
Some of the symptoms of low levels of potassium in women are listed below:
- Potassium is needed to release energy from the cells in the body as well as to re-energize them. Low levels of potassium in women prevent this functionality of the cells. This results in increased weakness of the nerves and the muscles.
- In addition to muscles weakness, there may be cramps of the muscles as well as muscles aches and increased fatigue and tiredness.
- Women with low potassium are prone to twitches and ticks of the muscles.
- The heart is also made of muscle tissues and decreased potassium in women may lead to palpitations or life threatening alterations in the rhythms of heart beats or arrhythmias.
- Potassium determines the retention and absorption of fluids by the intestine as it passes through it. Low level of potassium in women increases the level of fluid absorption. This results in constipation, irregular and problematic bowel movements and tiny, firm stools. In addition, it may lead to cramps in the abdomen as well as bloating and stomach pain
- Other symptoms of low potassium in women include tingling or numbing sensations of the muscles, low blood pressure resulting in fainting, vomiting, paralysis of the legs and arms, nausea, and abnormalities in behavior such as increased confusion, psychosis, depression, hallucinations or delirium
Causes of low potassium in women
Some of causes of low potassium in women are listed below:
- Excessive loss of potassium through the kidneys and the gastrointestinal tract causes low levels of potassium in women.
- Losses of potassium due to gastrointestinal reasons are –
• Formation of an Ileostomy as a result of bowel surgery
• Presence of villous adenoma which is a kind of colon polyp that leads to potassium leak from the colon
• Use of laxatives
Loss of potassium from the kidneys occurs in the following ways-
- Water pills or diuretic medications
- An increase in adrenal tumors or renal artery stenosis can lead to elevated levels of aldosterone hormone.
- Incidences or presence of renal tubular acidosis
- Conditions like Cushing’s syndrome or drugs like prednisone may increase the levels of corticosteroid in the body, leading to low levels of potassium in women
Other factors include-
- Low levels of magnesium in the body
- Excessive or increased perspiration
- Side effects of certain medications such as amphotericin B, bronchodilators, theophylline, steroids or aminoglycosides can lead to low levels of potassium in women
- Conditions such as chronic kidney failure, primary aldosteronism, diabetic ketoacidosis, bulimia, anorexia, malnutrition or minimal intake of food and leukemia
- Alcoholism, use of insulin or bariatric surgery
- Women undergo a lot of body changes such as childbirth, aging, menstruation and menopause and hence are highly susceptible to low potassium levels in their bodies.
Treatment of low potassium in women
- Avoid activities that involve intense physical exercises and excessive sweating
- Stop using laxatives, water pills, etc. that may cause low levels of potassium. The stoppage of prescribed medications has to be done after due consultations with a doctor
- Potassium levels in the body can be increased by potassium replacement therapy
- Severe cases of potassium deficiency in women have to be treated using a cardiac monitor along with an IV
- Intake of potassium pills or fluids is used to treat mild cases of potassium deficiency