Hypokalemia is a medical condition in which the level of potassium in the blood is lower than it should be, normally. Usually, a small drop in potassium level is not a huge concern and does not cause any symptoms. When a large drop occurs, though, the condition can become life-threatening and result in symptoms such as abnormal heart rhythm, muscle weakness and paralysis. Treatment for hypokalemia varies from person to person and depends on the diagnosis, but includes potassium supplements by mouth and dietary changes, as well as intravenous potassium replacement, if the condition is severe.
In mild cases, treatment for hypokalemia usually involves taking potassium supplements by mouth. For those who suffer from hypokalemia because they need to take diuretic medication, a certain type of oral potassium supplement that keeps potassium in the body might be the best treatment option. In addition to potassium supplements, which can come in liquid or pill form, another treatment method that will help with hypokalemia is to consume foods that are high in potassium. Apricots, bananas and tomatoes, for example, are good sources of potassium. It is important that potassium levels do not get too high when taking supplements and consuming these foods, though.
For more severe cases, treatment for hypokalemia involves intravenous potassium replacement. Intravenous replacement, which is the insertion of potassium into the veins, is a slow process because potassium irritates the veins, and too much of it, too quickly, can cause heart problems to occur, such as irregular rhythms and irritation. Periodic paralysis is a rare case of severe hypokalemia in which intravenous potassium replacement is necessary. This rare condition happens when the potassium level in the blood is so low that it causes the muscles to become extremely weak, making it difficult for the patient to move at all. With intravenous potassium replacement, periodic paralysis, which normally affects the arms and legs, but can also affect the muscles responsible for swallowing, usually subsides within 24 hours.
Treatment for hypokalemia, whether by mouth or intravenously, depends on the patient’s specific condition. Over time, the loss of potassium can cause damage to occur in the body, such as in the kidney. While potassium supplements or replacement can usually treat the hypokalemia, those who suffer from a severe case of the condition and do not seek proper treatment can experience a dangerously low drop in potassium. If proper treatment is absent, the condition can eventually lead to death.