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Magnesium deficiency

Magnesium deficiency is a condition in which the amount of magnesium in the blood is lower than normal. The medical name of this condition is 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. This includes 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 develop due to low magnesium.

Common causes of low magnesium include:

  • Alcohol use
  • 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
  • Hyperaldosteronism (disorder in which the adrenal gland releases too much of the hormone aldosterone into the blood)
  • Kidney tubule disorders
  • Malabsorption syndromes, such as celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease
  • Malnutrition
  • Medicines including amphotericin, cisplatin, cyclosporine, diuretics, proton pump inhibitors, and aminoglycoside antibiotics
  • Pancreatitis (swelling and inflammation of the pancreas)
  • Excessive 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 and ask about your symptoms.

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

A blood test will be ordered to check your magnesium level. Normal range is 1.3 to 2.1 mEq/L (0.65 to 1.05 mmol/L). 

Other 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. They contain electrolytes to keep your magnesium level in a healthy range.

Alternative Names

Low blood magnesium; Magnesium - low; Hypomagnesemia

References

Pfennig CL, Slovis CM. Electrolyte disorders. In: Hockberger RS, Walls RM, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2018:chap 117.

Smogorzewski MJ, Stubbs JR, Yu ASL. Disorders of calcium, magnesium, and phosphate balance. In: Skorecki K, Chertow GM, Marsden PA, Taal MW, Yu ASL, eds. Brenner and Rector's The Kidney. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 19.

Review Date 4/8/2019

Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.