What else is it called?

  • Magnesium deficiency 
  • Magnesium depletion 

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What causes it?

This disorder is caused by a lack of magnesium in your blood. It is a severe form of magnesium deficiency that requires medical intervention. 

Magnesium is an electrolyte that you need to turn food into energy that your body can use. It also helps to keep your bones and muscles healthy, as well as helping your nervous and immune systems to work properly. 

Some people have a problem absorbing magnesium into their body due to an issue with their kidneys or intestines. It is also commonly found in people who are in hospital, or on long-term medication for a different illness that can cause issues with absorbing magnesium. 

It can also be caused by not having enough magnesium in your diet.  

How common is it?

Hypomagnesaemia is estimated to affect 2.5% – 15% of the population. It is more common in hospitals, particularly intensive care units, where as many as 65% of people can be affected. 

There are certain medical conditions that can leave people at high risk of hypomagnesemia. You are more likely to develop the disorder if you have been diagnosed with:  

  • Alcoholism 
  • Congestive heart failure  
  • Diabetes 
  • Chronic diarrhea 
  • Hypokalemia 
  • Hypocalcemia 
  • Malnutrition 

Older people are also more likely to be diagnosed with the disorder. This may be because they are more likely to take medications that interfere with their ability to absorb magnesium.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Many cases of hypomagnesaemia do not show any notable symptoms (they are asymptomatic). However, you may experience some symptoms, especially if you also have other medical conditions. These can include: 

  • Muscle weakness  
  • Loss of balance (ataxia) 
  • Tremors or seizures 
  • Muscle cramps, especially in your hands and feet (carpopedal spasm)  
  • Heart problems/irregular heart rhythm (such as ventricular arrhythmias or ECG abnormalities) 
  • Depression or psychosis 
  • Extreme dizziness (vertigo) 
  • High levels of insulin in your blood (hyperinsulinism) 

If left untreated, symptoms may worsen and could even lead to death. However, most cases of hypomagnesaemia improve with medical treatment. It is important that your medical team can identify the reasons why you have developed the disorder to improve your chances of recovery. 

To reduce the chances of hypomagnesaemia, it is important to eat a varied, balanced diet that includes plenty of foods rich in magnesium.  

How is it diagnosed?

A specialised blood test is used to look at the magnesium levels in your body. Your medical team may also want to test for other abnormalities in your blood, possibly potassium and calcium. 

Hormonal abnormalities can sometimes be diagnosed as hypomagnesaemia, as well as abnormalities in different trace elements in your blood.  

It is likely that you will not be tested for the disorder if you do not show symptoms. 

Can it be treated?

This disorder is very treatable. You may be offered magnesium supplements and informed about the importance of a balanced, magnesium-rich diet. In serious cases, especially if you are suffering with seizures or heart issues, you may need to be treated with a magnesium drip (IV) in a hospital. 

With hypomagnesaemia, it is important to eat a balanced diet. Many foods are a good source of magnesium, including: 

  • Green leafy vegetables, like spinach 
  • Nuts 
  • Beans 
  • Brown rice  
  • Wholegrain bread  
  • Fish  
  • Meat  
  • Dairy 

Many people with hypomagnesaemia can be treated easily by increasing the amount of magnesium in their body to a safe level. However, complications can arise depending on the reasons why your magnesium levels are low – usually there is an underlying medical issue. It is important that your medical team are made aware of any other issues that may be contributing to your low levels of magnesium. 

In extreme cases, seizures and heart irregularities can cause death. It is important to get treatment quickly if you experience any abnormal symptoms. 

Do my family need to be tested?

As hypomagnesaemia is not inherited, it is unlikely that your family will need to be tested. However, if this disorder has been caused by a different inherited illness, family members may need to be tested for that condition. Consult your medical team for more information. 

Relevant Organisations


References are available on request. Please contact Helen Morris by phoning 0845 241 2173 or emailing helen@metabolicsupportuk.org [Resource Library No: AAP002]. 

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