Low magnesium level

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Definition

Low magnesium level is a condition in which the amount of magnesium in the blood is lower than normal. The medical name of this condition is hypomagnesemia.

Alternative Names

Low blood magnesium; Magnesium - low; Hypomagnesemia

Causes

Every organ in the body, especially the heart, muscles, and kidneys, needs the mineral magnesium. It also contributes to the makeup of teeth and bones. Magnesium is needed for many functions in the body, including the physical and chemical processes in the body that convert or use energy (metabolism).

When the level of magnesium in the body drops below normal, symptoms of low magnesium may develop.

Common causes of low magnesium include:

  • Burns that affect a large area of the body
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Excessive urination (polyuria), such as in uncontrolled diabetes and during recovery from acute kidney failure
  • High blood calcium level (hypercalcemia)
  • syndromes, such as and inflammatory bowel disease
  • Medicines including amphotericin, cisplatin, cyclosporine, diuretics, proton pump inhibitors, and aminoglycoside antibiotics
  • Sweating

Symptoms

Common symptoms include:

  • Abnormal eye movements (nystagmus)
  • Convulsions
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle spasms or cramps
  • Muscle weakness
  • Numbness

Exams and Tests

Your health care provider will do a physical exam to help determine the cause of your symptoms.

Tests that may be ordered include an electrocardiogram (ECG).

Blood and urine tests that may be done include:

Treatment

Treatment depends on the type of low magnesium problem and may include:

  • Fluids given through a vein (IV)
  • Magnesium by mouth or through a vein
  • Medicines to relieve symptoms

Outlook (Prognosis)

Outcome depends on the condition that is causing the problem.

Possible Complications

Untreated, this condition can lead to:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

When your body’s magnesium level drops too much, it can be a life-threatening emergency. Call your provider right away if you have symptoms of this condition.

Prevention

Treating the condition that is causing low magnesium can help.

If you play sports or do other vigorous activity, drink fluids such as sports drinks that contain electrolytes to keep your magnesium level in a healthy range.

References

Pfennig CL, Slovis CM. Electrolyte disorders. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al., eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2014:chap 125.

Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 4/30/2015
  • Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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