Potassium is a vital mineral that plays an important role in several important functions of our body. Hypokalemia is a condition characterized by a low potassium level in the blood. Potassium is a crucial element as far as pregnancy is concerned. Low potassium during pregnancy can lead to various complications.
In this article, let us discuss what causes Hypokalemia during pregnancy, the risks of low potassium during pregnancy, and ways to deal with it.
What Does Potassium Do For Pregnancy?
Potassium is an essential mineral that plays a vital role in maintaining fluid and electrolytic balance in our cells. Potassium also plays a vital role in sending nerve impulses and helping with muscle contraction.
Here are three important reasons why potassium is so important for a normal and healthy pregnancy:
- Potassium helps to alleviate fluid retention, which is a common issue experienced by expecting mothers
- Potassium helps to combat electrolytic imbalance that can make the immune system weaker
- Potassium along with calcium and magnesium helps to prevent restless legs and leg cramping, two annoying issues during pregnancy
The requirement for potassium does not increase just because the woman is pregnant. On the other hand, unlike before pregnancy, ensuring a regular intake of the recommended amount of potassium is very important during pregnancy.
The reason, as explained by our panel gynaecologist Dr Ankita Patel Tayal, is that the blood volume increases up to 50% during pregnancy and there are increased chances of loss of potassium due to pregnancy-related vomiting.
Additionally, the fetus also takes a significant amount of the mineral making mother deficient in it. Therefore it is important to eat potassium-rich food during pregnancy to rule out the chances of Hypokalemia- low potassium during pregnancy.
It was said women require 4700 mg of potassium per day. However, According to revised studies, the optimum level of potassium required during pregnancy is 4,000 mg/day and 4,400 mg/day for lactating mothers.
Related Reading: 9 Ways To Avoid Vomiting After Eating During Pregnancy
What Is Hypokalemia?
Hypokalemia is a condition in which the potassium level falls too low. This is potentially dangerous during pregnancy. Potassium deficiency during pregnancy can hinder normal labor and delivery. It can also trigger muscle cramps and other avoidable outcomes during pregnancy.
Low potassium during pregnancy can be diagnosed during routine blood tests. Irregular heartbeats can also signify this issue.
What Causes Low Potassium During Pregnancy?
Low potassium during potassium is more often triggered by severe vomiting or diarrhea rather than a deficiency of this mineral in the diet. This is because most of the vegetables and fruits pregnant women eat contain a significant amount of this mineral.
Here are some of the main causes of low potassium during pregnancy:
1. Morning sickness
Excessive nausea and vomiting during pregnancy can result in excessive potassium loss. This can lead to low potassium and fluid and electrolytic imbalance associated with it. Thus, we recommend this list of snacks to combat morning sickness during pregnancy.
Hyperemesis gravidarum is a pregnancy complication that is a precisely severe form of morning sickness that lasts long. Hypokalemia more often comes with Hyperemesis gravidarum.
Some medications prescribed to expecting women during pregnancy can also spur a dip in potassium levels. For example, some medicines prescribed for hypertension during pregnancy are diuretic in nature. These medicines considerably increase the frequency of urination, resulting in the loss of minerals including potassium.
Similarly, antibiotics like gentamicin and carbenicillin, which is used to treat certain bacterial infection during pregnancy, can deplete the potassium levels from the body causing low potassium during pregnancy
3. Increased production of aldosterone
Aldosterone is a steroid hormone secreted by the adrenal gland. It is essential for sodium conservation and plays a vital role in regulating salt and water in the body. It plays an important role in regulating blood pressure.
Normally, the aldosterone level increases during pregnancy. However, when due to some reason the level increases more than normal, it can lead to excessive excretion of potassium, thereby resulting in dropping of the potassium level drastically.
4. An imbalanced diet and untreated diarrhea
The above two conditions also contribute to low potassium during pregnancy.
Effect Of Low Potassium In Pregnancy
Dr Ankita Patel Tayal, MD Obs & Gynae, says that low potassium during pregnancy can bring about a range of serious outcomes. It can bring about relatively harmless edema (irregular swelling and inflammation throughout your body due to water retention) along with some serious problems like UTI and preterm delivery.
Therefore, it is very important to seek medical attention if you experience signs of low potassium during pregnancy.
What Are The Signs Of Low Potassium During Pregnancy?
It is important to identify and treat low potassium during pregnancy. The potassium deficiencies or low level of potassium during pregnancy can be classified as:
- Mild deficiency
- Moderate deficiency
- Severe deficiency
Mild deficiency usually causes no symptoms. On the other hand, moderate and severe deficiency can bring about some distinctive signs and symptoms. Here are some typical symptoms of low potassium during pregnancy.
1. Muscle cramps
Muscle cramps refer to involuntary and sudden contractions of the muscles. Low potassium level is one of the major factors that trigger muscle cramps. Potassium plays a major role in relaying signals from the brain that stimulates muscle contractions and stopping them.
Low blood potassium levels badly affect this relaying. This can result in uncontrolled and prolonged contractions. Muscle cramps are quite painful, more often appear during the night, and it usually affects leg muscles.
Related Reading: 7 Home Remedies For Leg Cramps During Pregnancy
2. Severe constipation
As stated above, potassium is a very important factor in passing signals from brain to muscle. This involves muscles in the digestive tract as well. According to a source, potassium is a major factor that regulates the electrical activity of digestive muscles thereby helping churn and propel food through it.
Low potassium makes the contractions of the digestive tract weak. When the bowel movements become slow it can cause constipation and bloat. Unlike the pregnancy induced constipation faced by many expecting mothers, constipation that happens due to low potassium level will be more severe. However, we recommend these home remedies for constipation during pregnancy.
3. Weakness or tiredness
Weakness and fatigue are typical signs of low potassium levels. Low potassium can trigger extreme tiredness in many ways.
- Potassium is a very essential element to regulate muscle contractions. When the potassium level in the blood falls muscles generate weaker contractions. Thus, walking and moving around will be very tiresome.
- Potassium deficiency can also impinge on the manner the body uses nutrients. This can also result in weakness or extreme tiredness
- Potassium is a vital element that is present in all of the body’s cells and tissues. Therefore, if there is no optimum level of potassium, it can adversely affect the wide range of functions of our body. This can lead to a low energy level
Related Reading: 11 Signs Of Weakness In Pregnancy
4. Breathing issues
Severe Hypokalemia can also lead to breathing issues. Like any other body function, breathing also involves the coordination of several muscles. Significantly low potassium level, along with other muscles in the body, affects the muscle involved in breathing as well.
When these muscles fail to work properly, one can experience difficulty breathing and shortness of breath.
5. A tingling feeling and numbness
This is one of the classic signs of low potassium. A persistent feeling of tingling and numbness in hands, arms, legs, or feet can be a sign of weakened or damaged nerves. This more often happens due to low potassium levels.
6. Irregular heartbeat or rhythm
Potassium helps regulate the heartbeat. Low potassium brings about irregular heartbeat that can be dangerous in some cases irregular heartbeat can bring about lightheadedness or dizziness during pregnancy.
7. High blood pressure
According to studies lower potassium level is linked to high blood pressure. this is because potassium plays a vital role in strengthening and relaxing the blood vessels. This will help to maintain optimum blood pressure. However, low potassium during pregnancy can take a toll on blood vessels and thereby increases the risk of hypertension.
Related Reading: 9 Ways To Overcome Tiredness During Pregnancy
5 Ways To Deal With (Hypokalemia) During Pregnancy
Dr Ankita Patel Tayal strongly recommends regaining optimum potassium levels in pregnancy once you are diagnosed with Hypokalemia to avoid complications. Dealing with low potassium during pregnancy is easier than you think. Here are 5 ways to bring back the optimum potassium level
1. Stick on to potassium-rich foods
In severe cases, the effectiveness of increased intake of potassium-rich food to increase the potassium level is much less. However, in mild cases, the potassium-rich diet can contribute to getting potassium back to an optimal level. Here are a few foods that are naturally rich in potassium that is safe for pregnant women.
Avocado, leafy greens, lentils, kidney beans, potato, cooked spinach, sweet potato, soybeans, banana, cooked broccoli, and pumpkins are known as potassium rich foods, making them a part of pregnancy superfoods.
Also drinking healthy & refreshing juices during pregnancy like grapefruit juice, orange juice, apricot juice prune juice, and tomato juice can also help to restore the lost potassium.
2. Reduction of potassium losses
Another important step to deal with Hypokalemia is to take measures to reduce potassium getting expelled from the body. For this:
- If you are using medicines with diuretic properties, the doctor may reduce its dosage or find some alternate medicines. Discontinuing any laxatives or diuretics is a must if you are experiencing low potassium during pregnancy
- Take measures to alleviate morning sickness, diarrhea, or vomiting. Excessive vomiting during pregnancy necessitates medical attention
3. Replenishment of potassium stores
Replacing the lost potassium is mandatory. As discussed earlier potassium-rich diet has a limitation to replenish potassium. After evaluating your blood, if the doctor finds out the potassium level is visibly low, the doctor will prescribe potassium supplements. It is important not to skip the recommended dose of the supplement.
However, if the doctor finds out the potassium level is drastically low, the doctor will take steps to restore potassium levels by means of intravenous administration of electrolytes.
4. Evaluation for potential toxicities
Dr Ankita Patel Tayal emphasises that too much potassium is also very dangerous during pregnancy. Therefore, close monitoring of the potassium level throughout the treatment is very important during pregnancy. Supplemental potassium, if not monitored, many a time, can contribute to another serious condition during pregnancy- hyperkalemia, high potassium level.
Related Reading: 10 Danger Signs Of Pregnancy To Watch Out For
5. Reduce the intake of sodium
Potassium levels and sodium levels share a special relation. When sodium levels go up, potassium levels go down. Likewise, when sodium levels go down, potassium levels go up. So, it is important to reduce the intake of sodium-rich food (salty snacks, cheese, processed meat, etc) if you are having low potassium during pregnancy.
So far low potassium during pregnancy is not known to cause miscarriage.
However, it can hinder the unproblematic progression of pregnancy by creating many annoying symptoms and complications.
Potassium mustn’t be consumed in large doses. A high level of potassium during pregnancy can be as hazardous as or more dangerous than having low potassium during pregnancy.
Therefore supplements should be taken under a supervision of a doctor only.
A doctor will evaluate your potassium level and decide the dosage of the supplement. So never go ahead with the counter potassium supplement if you doubt potassium deficiency.
However, there is no wrong with eating potassium-rich food as the probabilities of an overdose are very less.