9 Low Magnesium Symptoms: Mild and Short-Term or Chronic and How to Test (2024)

Magnesium is an essential mineral vital for regulating your heart rhythm; muscle, nerve, and brain functions; and energy levels. Low magnesium can occur when you don't get enough magnesium in your diet, your body doesn't absorb it well, or you excrete too much.

People with certain medical conditions such as diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders, and alcohol use disorders, as well as older adults are at higher risk of deficiency. While you may not have symptoms initially, early symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Muscle weakness
  • Poor appetite
  • Nausea

This article reviews low magnesium symptoms, how they progress over time, the daily requirements of magnesium, how to know if you are getting enough, and what to do if you need more magnesium.

9 Low Magnesium Symptoms: Mild and Short-Term or Chronic and How to Test (1)

Low Magnesium May Not Immediately Cause Symptoms

An adult body stores about 25 grams (g) of magnesium—60% in your bones and 40% in your cells. Less than 1% of magnesium in the body stays in the serum (liquid portion of the blood).

Low magnesium may not cause symptoms initially because your bloodstream borrows excess magnesium from your cells or bones. Your body can perform vital functions until the cells and bones run out of extra magnesium. Symptoms arise when there is nothing left to tap into.

Low Magnesium Symptoms That May Occur Over Time

The timing and severity of symptoms depend on the degree and rate of magnesium depletion. You or a healthcare provider may overlook a magnesium deficiency, delaying a diagnosis because of subtle symptoms like fatigue. Here are some examples of low magnesium symptoms:

  • Muscle weakness and fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Muscle spasms
  • Mood or personality changes
  • Tingling
  • Stiffness
  • Insomnia
  • Abnormal heartbeat

Magnesium, Potassium, Vitamin D, and Calcium

Magnesium, potassium, vitamin D, and calcium have a complex interconnection. Your body needs stable levels of each to function properly. For example:

  • Magnesium helps regulate potassium.
  • Magnesium helps turn vitamin D into its usable form.
  • Vitamin D helps with magnesium absorption (from food).
  • Vitamin D and magnesium help control the parathyroid hormone (PTH).
  • Low vitamin D causes PTH levels to rise, which can cause you to lose too much magnesium in the urine.
  • Severe magnesium deficiency can lead to low calcium levels.

Am I Getting Enough Magnesium?

Studies show that about 50% of the U.S. population does not get enough magnesium in their diet. This may be because they do not eat enough foods containing magnesium or because minerals such as magnesium have been depleted in the soil or by food processing.

Daily Recommended Amounts of Magnesium for Adults

The daily recommended magnesium intake for adults is between 310 and 320 milligrams (mg) daily for adult females and 400 and 420 mg for adult males.Postmenopausal people should continue to aim for 320 mg per day. Levels vary slightly for pregnant and lactating people as follows.

Pregnant:

  • Age 14–18: 400 mg per day
  • Age 19–30: 350 mg per day
  • Age 31 and older: 360 mg per day

Lactating:

  • Age 14–18: 360 mg per day
  • Age 19–30: 310 mg per day
  • Age 31 and older: 320 mg per day

Magnesium: Benefits, Side Effects, Dosage, Interactions

Can You Test for Low Magnesium on Your Own?

At-home vitamin-deficiency tests are available. The self-tests typically involve a finger-prick blood test where you can collect a sample at home and send it to the distributor's lab for analysis. You usually get results a few days after the lab receives the sample.

Sharing the results with a healthcare provider is vital because magnesium levels within the normal range do not necessarily mean you have enough magnesium. These tests do not provide information about magnesium stores in the body.

The same applies to a serum magnesium blood test ordered by a healthcare provider. Expected values vary between laboratories but are typically around 1.5 to 2.4 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). Symptoms usually occur when serum magnesium levels fall below 1.2 mg/dL.

But having symptoms or having a magnesium level at the lower end of the normal range could indicate a possible deficiency. The provider may order other, more specialized tests, including the following:

  • Red blood cell (RBC) magnesium test: This test reflects magnesium in the cells, not just the blood.
  • 24-hour urine test: This test measures how much magnesium your kidneys excrete.
  • Ionized magnesium: This test measures free, unbound magnesium ions in the blood. A serum test measures both bound and free magnesium ions and is more common for those who are critically ill.
  • Magnesium loading test: In this test, a healthcare provider gives you intravenous or oral magnesium and watches how you absorb and excrete it.
  • Hair mineral analysis: This test evaluates mineral deficiencies and heavy metal toxicity in the hair.

Risks of Untreated Symptoms of Low Magnesium

Left untreated, low magnesium levels can lead to the onset or worsening of the following health conditions:

  • Seizures
  • Heart rhythm disturbances
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Osteoporosis
  • Migraines
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Stroke
  • Congestive heart failure (CHF)
  • Asthma
  • Kidney stones
  • High cholesterol or triglycerides
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD)
  • Mental health disorders

Low Magnesium May Be a Sign of Preeclampsia in Pregnant People

It’s also important to note that low magnesium levels in pregnant people may be a sign of preeclampsia or eclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy).

What to Do With a Magnesium Deficiency

Depending on your level of magnesium deficiency, underlying health conditions, and the medications you take, your healthcare provider may recommend dietary changes or supplementation.

Dietary Changes

Dietary changes may involve increasing magnesium-rich foods and limiting sugar, saturated fat, sodium, and alcohol.

While this is not an exhaustive list, magnesium-rich foods include:

Serving sizeFoodMagnesium
1 ouncePumpkin seeds156 mg
1 ounceAlmonds80 mg
4 ouncesSpinach (steamed)78 mg
1 cupSoy milk61 mg
4 ouncesBlack beans60 mg
4 ouncesEdamame50 mg
8 ouncesPlain yogurt42 mg
1 packetInstant oatmeal36 mg
1 mediumBanana32 mg
3 ouncesSalmon26 mg
1 cupMilk24 mg
1 sliceWheat bread23 mg
3 ouncesChicken22 mg
4 ouncesAvocado22 mg
2 ouncesRaisins11.5 mg

Some health conditions and medicines can increase your risk of low magnesium by:

  • Decreasing your appetite
  • Causing poor magnesium absorption
  • Increasing magnesium excretion (peeing or pooping it out)

For example, older adults, critically ill people, and those with alcohol use disorder, gastrointestinal problems, and diabetes are at higher risk of deficiency. Examples of health conditions and medications that can contribute to lower magnesium levels include:

  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Gastrointestinal conditions (e.g., celiac disease, cystic fibrosis, diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease)
  • Diabetes and other endocrine or metabolic disorders
  • Kidney disease
  • Starvation
  • Vitamin D deficiency
  • Some medications (e.g., diuretics, proton pump inhibitors, certain antibiotics, immunosuppressants, and chemotherapy drugs)

This means that dietary changes or supplements may not fix low magnesium, especially if you have an underlying condition or take a medication causing the deficiency.

Magnesium Supplementation

Magnesium supplements come in various forms such as magnesium oxide, citrate, and chloride. Some types may be more appropriate for your condition and are better absorbed by the body than others.

If you need oral magnesium supplements, follow a healthcare provider's guidance regarding the type, dosage and the amount. Even though magnesium supplements are natural, they can cause side effects or interact with other medications or supplements.

It is possible to take too much magnesium. Also, medications such as antacids and laxatives contain a significant amount of magnesium and can cause your daily dosage to be too high.

Pros and Cons of Supplements

Oral magnesium supplements are helpful for those who don’t get enough of the mineral in their diet. Many people take them at night as they make some people sleepy.Common side effects include stomach cramps and diarrhea. While the research is not extensive, some people use topical (on the skin) magnesium instead of oral supplements to reduce the risk of stomach upset.

If your healthcare providers need to increase your magnesium levels quickly, they will offer it to you intravenously (IV) in a hospital setting. For example, providers commonly give IV magnesium to pregnant people with preeclampsia to lower their blood pressure.

Symptoms of Too Much Magnesium

Getting too much magnesium from food is unlikely unless a health condition prevents your kidneys from flushing it out of the body. But extremely high doses of magnesium (more than 5,000 mg/day) can be toxic and cause the following:

  • Low blood pressure or low heart rate
  • Muscle weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Facial flushing (redness)
  • Urinary retention (not able to pee)
  • Paralysis (with very high levels)
  • Cardiac arrest

Summary

Magnesium is an essential mineral that helps your body function. Low levels may not cause symptoms initially as the body borrows stored magnesium cells. But, eventually, you may experience fatigue, poor appetite, nausea, muscle spasms, mood changes, tingling, stiffness, insomnia, or an abnormal heartbeat.

Most people get enough magnesium in their diet. But, some people may need supplementation. Taking too much magnesium can also cause stomach upset or magnesium toxicity, so always consult a healthcare provider before starting a new supplement.

12 Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

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  3. AAA Ismail, Y Ismail, AA Ismail. Chronic magnesium deficiency and human disease; Time for reappraisal?. QJM: An International Journal of Medicine. 2018;111(11):759–763. doi:10.1093/qjmed/hcx186

  4. Ahmed F, Mohammed A. Magnesium: the forgotten electrolyte—a review on hypomagnesemia. Med Sci. 2019;7(4):56. doi:10.3390/medsci7040056

  5. Al Alawi AM, Majoni SW, Falhammar H. Magnesium and human health: perspectives and research directions. International Journal of Endocrinology. 2018;2018:1-17. doi:10.1155/2018/9041694

  6. Mori S, Tomita T, Fujimura K, et al. A randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial on the effect of magnesium oxide in patients with chronic constipation.J Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2019;25(4):563-575. doi:10.5056/jnm18194

  7. Singh A, Kaur R, Dass B, et al. Tingles, tetany, and electrolyte derangements. Cureus. 2020;12(4):e7854. doi:10.7759/cureus.7854

  8. Arab A, Rafie N, Amani R, Shirani F. The role of magnesium in sleep health: A systematic review of available literature. Biol Trace Elem Res. 2023;201(1):121-128. doi: 10.1007/s12011-022-03162-1

  9. MedlinePlus. Fluid and electrolyte balance.

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Additional Reading

9 Low Magnesium Symptoms: Mild and Short-Term or Chronic and How to Test (2)

By Brandi Jones, MSN-ED RN-BC
Jones is a registered nurse and freelance health writer with more than two decades of healthcare experience.

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