Will Low Levels of Potassium Cause a Rapid Pulse?

Potassium is an important mineral in your body, so your body must maintain it in sufficient levels for good health. Although low levels of potassium can certainly cause a rapid pulse, it is important to consult a physician, because a rapid pulse can be caused by a variety of health conditions, some of which are extremely serious.


Potassium: Definition

Potassium is an essential mineral found in a large variety of foods. It is an electrolyte, which means that your body breaks it down into electrically charged particles called ions, which your body can use to conduct electricity. Potassium works closely with sodium to maintain normal muscle contractions and heart function, making it an important mineral for your heart rate. A potassium deficiency can lead to abnormal heart rhythms, such as a rapid pulse, and a severe deficiency -- also known as hypokalemia -- can cause heart failure.

Potassium and Your Heart

Potassium works to control what is called the membrane potential, which is important for regulating your heart rate. Potassium is a positively charged ion that is concentrated inside of your cells, and it interacts with sodium concentrations outside of your cells. These two electrolytes create an electrical and chemical connection that crosses your cells’ membranes. This grid is called the membrane potential, and your cells can maintain its balance by exchanging sodium and potassium ions across the cell membrane. According to the Linus Pauling Institute, the regulation of the membrane potential is essential for regulating your heart’s function.


You can lose potassium in a variety of ways, and the resulting imbalance in electrolytes can cause heart palpitations or a rapid pulse. Sweating while exercising can deplete your electrolyte -- including potassium -- levels, particularly if you do not remain hydrated. In addition, diarrhea, vomiting, certain medications and poor diet can also cause you to lose potassium without regaining sufficient amounts. Finally, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, too much sodium in your diet can increase your need for potassium to balance out your membrane potential.


If you have a rapid pulse directly following exercise, you may need to replenish your potassium and other electrolytes. In addition, if you have a stomach flu resulting in vomiting and diarrhea, you may also need to replenish your potassium levels to prevent a rapid heart rate. However, if you suddenly begin having a rapid pulse for no reason, or if it is a recurring symptom, visit your doctor because you may have a serious health problem.


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