Q: I recently had some blood work done, and my potassium levels are low. What causes potassium levels to drop?
A: Potassium is an electrolyte or salt in your blood and body cells. It is important for normal cell function, especially muscle cells. An extremely low potassium level (less than 2.5 milliequivalents per liter) can be dangerous, with the potential for causing arrhythmias or irregular heart rates. The most common reasons for low potassium are the use of diuretics or water pills, recent GI illness such as severe vomiting or diarrhea or chronic laxative abuse. On rare occasions, low potassium can be caused by a tumor on your adrenal gland. The first step to treatment is identifying the cause. Usually, the low potassium can be corrected by medications, such as potassium replacements, or by increasing the amount of potassium-rich foods in your diet, such as soya flour, apricots, raisins, baked potatoes and bananas.
Chris Wizner, MD
WellStar Powder Springs Medical Center