Potassium is a mineral present in most human cells. It is a type of electrolyte that helps with nerve function, muscle movement, heartbeat regulation, and more. Potassium chloride is a supplement that can treat low potassium levels.

Low potassium can cause hypokalemia, which can be serious. Dietary sources of potassium include leafy green vegetables and other fresh foods.

This article will examine potassium chloride, its uses, side effects, benefits, and more.

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Potassium chloride is a salt-like metal compound that contains potassium and chloride. It comes in the form of white, colorless, cube-shaped crystals and has a strong, salty taste.

A person can purchase potassium chloride online or in health stores. It is available as a powder or extended-release tablet.

People can use potassium chloride to treat low potassium levels or hypokalemia.

Hypokalemia can lead to an irregular heartbeat, which may lead to death in severe cases.

It can result from:

The kidney is instrumental in retaining or excreting potassium from the body. The body can lose excessive amounts of potassium through vomiting and diarrhea.

In these instances, a person can use potassium chloride as a supplement to increase their potassium intake.

Other uses of potassium chloride include:

  • eye drops and contact lens care
  • a low sodium food substitute
  • medication administered orally, via injection or intravenously

The human body needs potassium to work properly. Potassium helps muscle construction, nerve function, and heartbeat regulation. It also helps cells to function normally.

A diet high in potassium can help reduce some of the harmful effects salt has on blood pressure.

Benefits of taking potassium chloride include:

Potassium occurs naturally in fruit, vegetables, dairy, and seafood products.

Foods that are particularly high in potassium include:

  • beet greens
  • cooked fufu
  • lima beans
  • swiss chard
  • root vegetables, including sweet potato and parsnip

Potassium chloride is available by prescription as an extended-release tablet. It is also available as an injectible, ready-made solution, or soluble powder.

When taking any medicines or supplements, a person should always follow the instructions on the manufacturer’s label or doctor’s prescription.

In more severe cases, healthcare professionals can administer potassium chloride intravenously through a tube into the vein.

A person should consult a doctor before giving potassium chloride to babies and children under 16 years of age.

A person should always consult a doctor before using any supplements.

The table below shows the average adequate potassium intake for adults and adolescents.

These figures do not apply to those who release more or less potassium through urine, for example, due to kidney problems or medications.

AgeMaleFemale
14–18 years3,000 milligrams (mg)2,300mg
19+ years3,400 mg2,600 mg

A person should not take potassium chloride if they take medications that increase excess potassium.

People with chronic kidney disease should also avoid taking potassium chloride, as their kidneys might be unable to expel excess potassium from the blood.

A person is at risk of developing hyperkalemia — an excess of potassium — if they have certain conditions, including:

A person is most at risk from hypokalemia if they have inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

People who take potassium-sparing diuretics, thiazide diuretics and ACE inhibitors may also be at risk of ingesting too little potassium.

People who take potassium chloride may risk consuming too much potassium, resulting in hyperkalemia.

Some people with hyperkalemia may be asymptomatic, which means they do not have any symptoms. However, the following symptoms may occur:

If someone suspects they have taken too much potassium chloride, they should seek medical attention.

Most adverse effects result from the way a person takes potassium chloride.

Taking the drug orally may cause vomiting and diarrhea. If a person has an injection, they may experience some complications at the injection site, including:

According to the NIH, people will need to consult a doctor about taking potassium chloride with other medications.

Potassium chloride may not be safe for people who take:

  • ACE inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers: These include Lotensin or benazepril and Cozaar or losartan.
  • Potassium-sparing diuretics: Medications include Midamore or amiloride and Aldactone or spironolactone. A person taking these medications needs their potassium levels monitored through blood tests.
  • Loop and thiazide diuretics: Medications include Lasix or furosemide and Bumex or bumetanide. Thiazide diuretics include Diuril or chlorothiazide and Zaroxolyn or metalazone. These drugs increase the body’s excretion of potassium, which may lead to low potassium.

This section answers some frequently asked questions about low potassium and potassium chloride.

What are the signs of low potassium?

Many people with hypokalemia do not display any symptoms, so it can be hard for a doctor to diagnose.

If a person does have symptoms, they may include:

How does potassium chloride affect the heart?

If a person takes too much potassium chloride, they may experience heart palpitations or heart arrhythmia, which can be life threatening.

However, having low potassium levels can also affect the heart, increasing the stiffness of the arteries and reducing muscle movements.

A 2018 study found that people with heart failure were more likely to take diuretics and have low potassium levels. Diuretics can increase the loss of potassium through urine.

Heart ventricle arrhythmia or an irregular heartbeat is more likely to develop in a person with low potassium levels. Low potassium levels may lead to increased calcium in the body, which can further initiate arrhythmia.

If a person has low potassium levels, they should consult a doctor. They will recommend an adequate amount of potassium chloride to avoid hyperkalemia and straining the heart.

What happens if you take too much potassium chloride?

Taking too much potassium chloride may result in hyperkalemia. This is when potassium levels in the blood are higher than usual. It is the opposite of hypokalemia.

Hyperkalemia can develop quickly. Symptoms include:

A doctor can see how much potassium is in a person’s body by analyzing a blood sample.

Levels of potassium are as follows and measured in millimoles per liter (mmol/l):

StateLevels (mmol/l)
normal potassium3.5 – 5.0
low potassium <3.5
high potassium5.1 – 6.0
dangerously high potassium >6.0

People whose potassium levels are at the extreme ends of the scale may need urgent medical treatment, as this can be life threatening.

Potassium is an essential mineral for the body to maintain good health and functioning.

Natural sources of potassium include green leafy vegetables, fruit, dairy products, beans, and nuts.

A person can also take potassium chloride as a supplement to increase their potassium levels. A person should take supplements alongside a healthy, balanced diet. Always talk with your doctor before taking any supplements, including potassium chloride.

Certain medications, such as diuretics, may result in low potassium levels, known as hypokalemia. In this case, a person will need to take potassium chloride to compensate.

Taking too much potassium chloride may result in hyperkalemia, which may also need treatment.

Hypokalemia and hyperkalemia can cause serious health conditions, such as heart and kidney failure.

Anyone experiencing symptoms of either condition should consult a medical professional.

Carefully monitoring and balancing potassium levels will help keep the condition stable.