What causes low potassium levels?

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine

Low potassium levels can be caused by any of several substances or conditions, including diarrhea, diuretics (drugs that make you urinate more frequently), and eating disorders. Some antibiotics, certain types of kidney disease, profuse sweating, vomiting, and (drum roll, please) some kinds of licorice can also cause low potassium levels. Call your doc if you notice symptoms like fatigue, muscle weakness, muscle pain, or changes in your heart rate or rhythm.

Several factors contribute to low potassium levels in your body. They can include a combination of the following:

  • chronic kidney failure
  • water pills
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • eating disorders
  • overuse of laxatives
  • excessive sweating
  • eating a lot of licorice or chewing tobacco that contains licorice

Continue Learning about Potassium

How Potassium Can Help Prevent Heart Disease
How Potassium Can Help Prevent Heart Disease
If you were shopping in a grocery store in the 1940s, you wouldn’t recognize the bananas in the produce section. The Gros Michel species was shorter a...
Read More
Can I get potassium from food?
Dr. Michael Roizen, MDDr. Michael Roizen, MD
You betcha. And that’s the best way to get it and any other vitamin and mineral as well. Most peop...
More Answers
How soon after taking potassium will my levels improve?
Stacy Wiegman, PharmDStacy Wiegman, PharmD
The time it takes for your potassium levels to improve depends on many factors. The type of pota...
More Answers
Are muscle cramps and weakness sign of low potassium?
Muscle cramps can be a sign of low potassium, and the only way to determine if you need an increase ...
More Answers

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.