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Hypokalemia During Pregnancy – Symptoms, Causes And Treatment

4 min read

During pregnancy, you should be very alert about your health and should not ignore even commonly occurring muscular weakness and fatigue. This can be an early symptom of Hypokalemia, one of the complications due to deficiency of mineral potassium that occurs during pregnancy.
Hypokalemia in pregnancy

  • What Is Hypokalemia?
  • What Is The Normal Level Of Potassium In Blood During Pregnancy?
  • How Does Hypokalemia Affect My Pregnancy?
  • What Are The Symptoms Of Hypokalemia During Pregnancy?
  • What Causes Hypokalemia During Pregnancy?
  • How Is Hypokalemia Diagnosed During Pregnancy?
  • How Can Hypokalemia During Pregnancy Be Treated?

What Is Hypokalemia?

Low potassium levels in the blood stream is called hypokalemia. Potassium has a vital role in the proper functioning of nerve and muscle cells; by maintaining a balance of electrolytes and water in the body. 98% of this electrolyte are inter-cellular (found inside the cells). Even minute changes in the remaining 2% can cause severe effects on nerves and muscles cells especially heart muscle cells.
The kidneys play an important role in regulating potassium level in the blood stream by eliminating excess potassium through urine.

What Is The Normal Level Of Potassium In Blood During Pregnancy?

The normal levels of potassium in the blood stream is 3.5 to 5 milli moles per litre. During the first trimester potassium in the range of 3.6 to 5, second trimester 3.3 to 5, third trimester 3.3 to 5.1 are considered to be normal.
Once the potassium level goes below these levels, the situation of hypokalemia occur.

How Does Hypokalemia Affect My Pregnancy?

Hypokalemia is a very dangerous situation to arise during pregnancy as it can harm both the mother and the unborn child.

  • Hypokalemic periodic paralysis is a situation that may arise during pregnancy due to the extreme muscle weakness, due to low potassium level, for a short period of time. This temporary paralysis more often affects arms and legs
  • Hypokalemia can cause the cardiac complication known as cardiac dysrhythmias (irregular heartbeats). Severe dysrhythmias can cause cardiac arrest or lung paralysis
  • High blood pressure is another complication that can arise during pregnancy because of hypokalemia
  • Untreated hypokalemia can cause kidney failure which can put both mother and the child’s life in danger

What Are The Symptoms Of Hypokalemia During Pregnancy?

Initial symptoms are very hard to recognize as most of them are common during pregnancy, almost in all women. The main symptoms in mild cases of hypokalemia are:

  • Constipation
  • Muscle cramps
  • Fatigue and numbness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal cramping and bloating

Main symptoms in severe cases of hypokalemia are:

  • Irregular heart beats
  • Passing large amount of urine
  • Feeling thirsty
  • Breathing problems
  • Unable to move the limbs

Emotional problems that surface due to hypokalemia during pregnancy are:

  • Depression
  • Confusion
  • Hallucination

Hypokalemia foods

What Causes Hypokalemia During Pregnancy?

  • Vomiting and diarrhea during pregnancy: A significant amount of vomiting, which is associated with morning sickness or an attack of diarrhea during the first trimester can result in potassium loss from the intestine
  • Use of Diuretics: Diuretics are medicines used for treating high blood pressure. Using diuretics cause increased urination resulting in low potassium level
  • Use of antibiotics: Using of certain antibiotics during pregnancy like, gentamicin and carbenicillin can cause hypokalemia
  • Increased level of aldosterone: Aldosterone is a steroid hormone secreted by adrenal gland which has a vital role in maintaining the pH and electrolyte level of blood. During pregnancy, when this hormone is produced in the higher level, can result in loss of potassium through urine

How Is Hypokalemia Diagnosed During Pregnancy?

Low potassium can be diagnosed in a routine blood test done during pregnancy. Irregular heartbeats can be caught in an ECG.

How Can Hypokalemia During Pregnancy Be Treated?

The treatment of hypokalemia varies with the intensity. It can be ranged from dietary intake of potassium, prescribing oral supplements, to restoring potassium by intravenous administration.
The treatment is basically concentrated on two aspects- restoration of the normal level of potassium in the blood stream and minimization of further chances of deficiency of potassium. The measures taken to restore potassium levels in the blood are:

  • Modifying the current menu with potassium rich food: Potassium is widely distributed in food. Include the food items which has sufficient amount of potassium like, bananas, tomato, spinach, white bean, mushroom, fish, avocados, yogurt, potatoes, etc. will help to raise the amount of potassium naturally during pregnancy
  • Increasing electrolyte intake: Increasing the intake of electrolyte to 2000 mg per day will help to keep up the potassium level with the raising blood volume
  • Oral potassium supplements: Mild or moderate hypokalemia (2.5 to 3.5 milli moles per litre) can be treated with oral potassium replacement therapy. Potassium supplements are available in different forms like capsules, tablets, powder and liquid. Oral potassium is absorbed quickly. Dosage depends upon the requirement
  • Intravenous administrating: If potassium level is less than 2.5 milli moles per litre, more aggressive treatment like intravenous administration of potassium is needed. Potassium can be highly irritating to the veins. Hence, the procedure is usually done under close supervision to avoid heart irritation

Pregnant women need to keep a check on their potassium levels, and the cause of all symptoms must be diagnosed. Physical exertion and strenuous activities should be avoided; in the event you have been diagnosed with low levels of potassium. Regular, routine checkups and prenatal appointments are the key to identify and treat any problem, so ensure that you do not miss them.

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