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Hypokalemia: Care Instructions

Your Care Instructions

Hypokalemia (say "hy-po-kuh-LEE-mee-uh") is a low level of potassium. The heart, muscles, kidneys, and nervous system all need potassium to work well.

This problem has many different causes. Kidney problems, diet, and medicines like diuretics and laxatives can cause it. So can vomiting or diarrhea. In some cases, cancer is the cause. Your doctor may do tests to find the cause of your low potassium levels.

You may need medicines to bring your potassium levels back to normal. You may also need regular blood tests to check your potassium.

If you have very low potassium, you may need intravenous (I.V.) medicines. You also may need tests to check the electrical activity of your heart. Heart problems caused by low potassium levels can be very serious.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • If your doctor recommends it, eat foods that have a lot of potassium. These include fresh fruits, juices, and vegetables. They also include nuts, beans, and milk.
  • Be safe with medicines. If your doctor prescribes medicines or potassium supplements, take them exactly as directed. Call your doctor if you have any problems with your medicines.
  • Get your potassium levels tested as often as your doctor tells you.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You feel like your heart is missing beats. Heart problems caused by low potassium can cause death.
  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have a seizure.

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You feel weak or unusually tired.
  • You have severe arm or leg cramps.
  • You have tingling or numbness.
  • You feel sick to your stomach, or you vomit.
  • You have belly cramps.
  • You feel bloated or constipated.
  • You have to urinate a lot.
  • You feel very thirsty most of the time.
  • You are dizzy or light-headed, or you feel like you may faint.
  • You feel depressed, or you lose touch with reality.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.