What to Know About Potassium Chloride

Medically Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on June 05, 2023
3 min read

Potassium is one of the essential minerals your body needs to function normally. It plays a crucial role in regulating the beating of the heart. It's present in many foods, but its deficiency in the body can lead to hypokalemia or potassium deficiency.

Potassium chloride is a form of salt that can be used as a medication to treat low potassium levels in the blood. Potassium in the blood may decrease because of a disease or as a result of taking certain medications.

Potassium chloride is a naturally occurring salt derived from the ground or sea. It's a potassium-based salt that food manufacturers mostly use to replace sodium chloride, or table salt. In some applications, it can help reduce the presence of sodium by as much as 70%. It doesn’t carry a high health risk like sodium-based salts do.

You can use potassium salts just like regular table salt. Many food companies use potassium chloride as a substitute to lower the sodium levels in their processed foods. As consumers continue to demand lower-sodium products, manufacturers have found potassium chloride to be a safe alternative. It's now the leading reformulation option for reducing sodium levels in food products. Unfortunately, it may leave a metallic aftertaste.

Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey shows that sodium is consumed in excess quantities by the U.S. population. Potassium is under-consumed, yet is essential as it reduces the effects of too much sodium. Excessive sodium leads to an increase in blood pressure, putting you at risk of cardiovascular disease. 

In an advisory issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, manufacturers are encouraged to use potassium chloride in processing food. They should clearly label it as “potassium salt.” The word salt is to encourage food makers to use this product as an alternative to sodium chloride. FDA believes this change in ingredient labeling will help consumers with decreasing their sodium consumption and will not be misleading to consumers. 

Apart from using potassium chloride to flavor your food, your doctor may also prescribe it as medication. Your doctor will have your blood tested to determine if potassium chloride can treat your condition. It may also be necessary to check your heart using an electrocardiogram or ECG to check your heart’s electrical activity. These tests will determine how long your doctor will treat you with potassium.

The best way to take potassium chloride as medicine is to swallow the pill whole. Chewing, crushing, breaking, or sucking on it will irritate your mouth or throat. Doing so causes too much of the medication to be released at once. As for the powder form, mix it with half a cup of cold water or fruit juice and drink it slowly. Ensure you use the exact recommended dose and don't use it for longer than your doctor recommends.

Before you stop taking the medicine, you should first talk to your doctor. Sudden withdrawal might worsen your condition.

Don't use potassium chloride if:

You also need to let your doctor know if you have ever had:

Let your doctor know if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding before taking the medication. It's unclear whether it can harm the unborn or breastfeeding child as studies are still in the early stages. Don't give potassium chloride to a child as medication without consulting a doctor first.

If you have signs of an allergic reaction after taking potassium chloride in food or as medicine, you need to get emergency medical help. Hives, swelling of the face, lips, throat, or tongue are some indicators of an allergic reaction. Other symptoms to look out for are:

  • Chest pain
  • Trouble breathing
  • Severe throat irritation
  • Pain, irritation, or swelling at the point of injection
  • Stomach bloating
  • A high potassium level accompanied by weakness, nausea, irregular heartbeats, chest pain, and loss of movement
  • Severe stomach pain and vomiting
  • Signs of stomach bleeding, for example, coughing up blood, blood stool, or vomit that looks like coffee grounds.

Avoid taking potassium supplements or products that contain potassium when you’re on potassium chloride medication. You might end up with too much potassium in the blood, leading to health complications like irregular heartbeats or a heart attack.