Magnesium Deficiency Symptoms, Causes and Treatments

Magnesium is an important mineral and nutrient. Doctors usually diagnose magnesium deficiency, or hypomagnesemia, when there is a low level of magnesium in the blood.

Doctors define hypomagnesemia as a serum magnesium level below 0.75 millimoles per liter (mmol/l). They can measure this level using a blood test. Hypomagnesemia doesn’t always cause symptoms, but early symptoms can include muscle twitching, numbness, and tingling. Left untreated, hypomagnesemia can lead to health problems and lower calcium and potassium levels in the body.

In this article, we take a close look at the factors that can cause low magnesium levels. We also explore the effects of magnesium deficiency on the body and treatment methods.

What is hypomagnesemia?

Hypomagnesemia is the medical name for magnesium deficiency. Magnesium is involved in over 300 of the body’s enzymatic reactions. It contributes significantly to:

  • healthy muscles and nerves
  • regulation of blood pressure
  • the production of energy in the body’s cells
  • DNA and RNA synthesis

However, the body cannot produce magnesium, so a person must get it from their diet. If the intake is insufficient or if an underlying health problem affects the absorption or utilization of this nutrient, the person may develop hypomagnesemia. When a person has low levels, but not enough to constitute a deficiency, this is called “magnesium deficiency”.

Symptoms of hypomagnesemia

People with mild hypomagnesemia may not have any symptoms. If symptoms appear, they may includeTrusted Source:

  • muscle twitching, especially in the facial muscles
  • weakness and exhaustion
  • nausea and vomiting
  • personality changes
  • tremors
  • very pronounced reflexes
  • constipation
  • A more severe magnesium deficiency can lead to:
  • muscle contractions
  • epileptic seizures
  • heart rhythm changes

In a 2019 review, researchers noted that low levels of magnesium in the blood may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and atrial fibrillation, a disorder that results in uncoordinated beatings of the heart’s upper chambers.

Causes of hypomagnesemia

True magnesium deficiency does not usually develop in people who are otherwise healthy. This is because the kidneys can control how much of this mineral they excrete through urine. If the body does not have enough magnesium, the kidneys may stop removing the magnesium the body has, which helps balance levels.

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A person can develop hypomagnesemia if:

  • She consistently receives too little magnesium in her diet.
  • His kidneys excrete too much magnesium.
  • She has another medical condition that affects nutrient absorption.
  • Certain groups are at risk for magnesium deficiency, which is a milder condition. These include people affected by:


Starvation, anorexia, bulimia, or frequent vomiting for any reason can lead to magnesium deficiency.

Digestive diseases

People with conditions such as Crohn’s disease, celiac disease or regional enteritis may have difficulty absorbing magnesium from the gut. If a person has surgery to bypass the small intestine, this can also lead to a loss of magnesium.


Chronic diarrhea can lead to an imbalance of electrolytes. People with gastrointestinal conditions that cause diarrhea have a higher risk of hypomagnesemia.

Alcohol abuse

Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to an imbalance of electrolytes or nutrients, and it can cause the body to release more magnesium than usual.

Breastfeeding or pregnancy

Both increase magnesium requirements. During pregnancy, an adult’s magnesium requirement increases from 310-320 milligrams (mg) to 350-360 mg per day.


Magnesium absorption becomes more difficult over time, putting older adults at higher risk for magnesium deficiency.


If a person has type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance, high levels of glucose in the kidneys can cause the body to excrete more magnesium. Diabetic ketoacidosis is a life-threatening complication of diabetes, and it can also reduce magnesium levels.

Organic deficiency

Failure of an organ, especially the kidneys, can cause the body to excrete too much magnesium.

People taking certain medications can also lose large amounts of magnesium. These drugs include:

  • some antifungals
  • diuretics
  • proton pump inhibitors
  • cisplatin, a chemotherapy drug
  • Taking certain thyroid hormones can have a similar effect.
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How do doctors diagnose hypomagnesemia?

The body contains about 25 grams of magnesium, more than half of which is found in the bones. Magnesium is also abundant in soft tissues. Less than 1% of the body’s magnesium is found in serum, the liquid component of blood. In the blood, normal serum magnesium levels are between 0.75 and 0.95 mmol/l. Doctors diagnose hypomagnesemia when an individual has a serum magnesium level below 0.75 mmol/L. A blood test can confirm the diagnosis. If there is no apparent cause, the doctor can determine if the person is losing magnesium through their kidneys or digestive system. It can measure the amount of magnesium in the person’s urine over 24 hours.

Treatment of hypomagnesemia

Doctors treat low magnesium levels in different ways, depending on the situation.

Mild cases

For mild magnesium deficiency in people without other health conditions, a doctor may suggest getting more magnesium through the diet. The following foods contain high amounts of magnesium:

Food Magnesium per serving % of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for men % of the RDA for women

  • almonds 76.5mg: 19.13% 23.9%.
  • 1 avocado 39.4 mg: 9.85% 12.31
  • 1 cup cooked brown rice 78.8 mg: 19.7% 24.63%.
  • 1 cup of lentils 90.2 mg: 22.55% 28.19%.

If eating magnesium-rich foods isn’t an option or doesn’t help, a doctor may suggest a magnesium supplement. However, people with kidney problems should use them with caution. If the kidneys aren’t working well, they may not excrete excess magnesium at a normal rate, leading to the opposite problem – hypermagnesemia. This is the case when the body has too much magnesium.

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Links to hypocalcemia and hypokalemia

A person with very low magnesium levels may also have a calcium or potassium deficiency. A low calcium level is called hypocalcemia, while a potassium deficiency is called hypokalemia. Magnesium helps transport calcium and potassium ions in and out of cells. It can also aid in the absorption of these important minerals. This is why a lack of magnesium can lead to a drop in calcium and potassium levels. Treating magnesium deficiency alone can make calcium deficiency worse because magnesium binds to calcium. Doctors who suspect hypomagnesemia often look for other deficiencies. This allows them to treat hypomagnesemia, hypocalcemia and hypokalemia at the same time, if necessary.

Outlook for Hypomagnesemia

The outlook for someone with magnesium deficiency depends on the cause. If a mild case of magnesium deficiency results from factors such as a lack of magnesium in the diet, pregnancy, or advanced age, eating more magnesium-rich foods or taking a supplement can often solve the problem. For people with more severe or persistent hypomagnesemia, the doctor must identify the cause before the outcome can be predicted. If he can find and treat the root cause, a full recovery is likelyTrusted Source. It is crucial to receive treatment, as dangerously low levels of this mineral can cause life-threatening heart conditions. It is also important not to diagnose and treat magnesium deficiency on your own.

* The information and services available on in no way replace the consultation of competent health professionals. []

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