Potassium levels are likely not something you worry about, especially in young children. However, the mineral is necessary for many of the body’s processes.
Even if your child consumes a well-rounded diet that is likely rich in potassium, it does not mean his or her levels are normal.
Learn exactly what potassium does and what your child’s levels should be at in order to remain healthy.
What Is Potassium
The third most abundant mineral in the body, potassium is crucial for your body to regulate fluid, send nerve signals and regulate muscle contractions.
An estimated 98% of the potassium found in your body is located in your cells, with 80% of this found in your muscle cells, while the other 20% is located in your bones, liver and red blood cells.
When potassium enters your body, it turns into an electrolyte, which your body then uses for a number of processes.
Because of this, if you have too many or too light electrolytes in your body, it can negatively affect the body.
In order for your muscles, nerves and heart to function properly, it is important that your potassium levels are healthy.
Potassium levels below 2.5 mmol/L are considered to be very low and should be taken seriously.
If your potassium levels are higher than 5.2 mmol/L, you should talk to your doctor about what your test results mean.
Potassium levels higher than 6.0 mmol/L can be dangerous and may require a lifestyle change.
Potassium Side Effects
If you are suffering from low levels of potassium (also called hypokalemia), your doctor may recommend potassium chloride tablets.
These tablets can cause side effects, including stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, tingling in the hands or feet and the appearance of a potassium chloride tablet in your stool.
If you are taking potassium tablets and experience difficulty swallowing or feel as though the capsule is caught in your throat, let your doctor know.
Signs of Low Potassium
A potassium deficiency occurs when the blood potassium level is below 3.5 mmol per liter.
Typically, a deficiency is caused when the body loses a mass amount of fluid quickly—often from chronic vomiting, diarrhea, excessive sweating and blood loss.
Common signs of a potassium deficiency include weakness and fatigue, muscle cramps and spasms, digestive problems, heart palpitations, muscle aches and stiffness, tingling and numbness, difficulty breathing and mood changes.
Unfortunately, less than 2% of Americans actually reach their daily potassium goals. The good news, however, is that it’s unlikely that getting too little potassium will cause a deficiency.
Most potassium deficiencies occur when the body suddenly losses too much potassium—often occurring after chronic vomiting, chronic diarrhea or after you’ve lost a lot of water.
Someone who is suffering from a potassium deficiency may experience heart palpitations, tingling and numbness, trouble breathing, mood changes, muscle cramps and spasms, digestive problems, and muscle cramps and spasms.
Too Much Potassium
It is rare to get too much potassium, although it is possible it can happen if you take too many potassium supplements.
Too much potassium can also occur when the body is unable to remove the mineral through urine—mostly impacting those with kidney problems.
Anyone who suffers from chronic kidney disease, is currently taking blood pressure medication and those over the age of 65 should limit their potassium intake, especially avoiding supplements.
Foods High in Potassium
It is recommended that you get 3,5000 to 4,700 mg of potassium every day, which means it’s a good idea to be aware of which foods are rich in potassium.
A 3.5-ounce serving of the following foods will help you get closer to your daily potassium goal:
- Beet greens, cooked: 909 mg
- Yams, baked: 670 mg
- Pinto beans, cooked: 646 mg
- White potatoes, baked: 544 mg
- Portobello mushrooms, grilled: 521 mg
- Avocado: 485 mg
- Sweet potato, baked: 475 mg
- Spinach, cooked: 466 mg
- Kale: 447 mg
- Salmon, cooked: 414 mg
- Bananas: 358 mg
- Peas, cooked: 271 mg
What Causes High Potassium Levels
It is nearly impossible to have high potassium levels based on diet alone.
Normally, high blood potassium (also called hyperkalemia) is caused when the blood cells rupture in the blood sample during or following a blood draw.
When the rupture occurs, it can cause cells to leak their potassium into the sample, falsely raising the amount of potassium in the blood sample.
However, acute kidney failure and chronic kidney disease can be responsible for genuinely high potassium, levels.
How to Lower Potassium Levels
If you’ve been instructed by a doctor to lower your potassium levels, there are several things you can do.
Educating yourself on which foods are high in potassium, and avoiding those foods, is a good place to start.
You may also want to try avoiding certain salt substitutes, which may be high in potassium.
Herbal remedies and herbal supplements, which have ingredients known to increase potassium levels, should also be avoided.
Your doctor may also suggest you use water pills or. Potassium binder to help remove extra potassium from your body—and to keep it from coming back.
What Causes Kidney Failure
When the kidneys are suddenly unable to filter waste products from the blood, it results in acute kidney failure.
Kidney failure is very serious and can develop extremely quick—often in less than a few days.
Acute kidney failure may occur if you have a condition that causes the blood flow to your kidneys to slow down.
It can also develop if you experience direct damage to your kidneys or your kidneys’ urine drainage tubes become blocked.
Symptoms of Kidney Problems
Signs and symptoms of acute kidney failure can include a decrease urine output, fluid retention (which may cause your legs, ankles or feet to swell), shortness of breath, fatigue, confusion, nausea, weakness, irregular heartbeat, chest pain or pressure and seizures or coma.
It is possible for acute kidney failure to develop with no signs or symptoms.
If this occurs, you may not know your kidneys are failing until it has been detected though lab tests (typically done for another reason).
If you’re concerned about your child’s potassium levels, consider visiting your local Medical City Children’s Urgent Care.
Our pediatric-trained staff is designed to exclusively meet the needs of children and can inform you if your child’s levels are abnormal.
Prior to your visit with us, be sure to use the Web Check-In® feature.
Disclaimer: Patients’ health can vary. Always consult with a medical professional before taking medication, making health-related decisions or deciding if medical advice is right for you.