Electrolytes are the smallest of chemicals that are important for the cells in the body to function and allow the body to work. Electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, and others are critical in allowing cells to generate energy, maintain the stability of their walls, and to function in general. They generate electricity, contract muscles, move water and fluids within the body, and participate in myriad other activities.
The concentration of electrolytes in the body is controlled by a variety of hormones, most of which are manufactured in the kidney and the adrenal glands. Sensors in specialized kidney cells monitor the amount of sodium, potassium, and water in the bloodstream. The body functions in a very narrow range of normal, and it is hormones like renin (made in the kidney), angiotensin (from the lung, brain and heart), aldosterone (from the adrenal gland), and antidiuretic hormone (from the pituitary) that keep the electrolyte balance within those normal limits.
Keeping electrolyte concentrations in balance also includes stimulating the thirst mechanism when the body gets dehydrated.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/4/2015
Must Read Articles Related to Electrolytes
Patient Comments & Reviews
The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Electrolytes:
Electrolytes - Experience
What conditions have you experienced from having too many or too few electrolytes?
Sodium Imbalance - Patient Experience
Have you experienced sodium imbalance? Please describe your experience.
Potassium Imbalance - Patient Experience
Have you experienced potassium imbalance? Please describe your experience.
Calcium Imbalance - Patient Experience
Have you experienced calcium imbalance? Please describe your experience.
Magnesium Imbalance - Patient Experience
Have you experienced magnesium imbalance? Please describe your experience.
Nutrition and Healthy Eating Resources
- How to Spot Deadly Allergy Triggers
- 11 No-Alcohol Drinks for Diabetes
- Diabetes-Friendly Foods for Your Workout
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape
This article describes important principles and specific methods of fluid, electrolyte, and nutrition (FEN) management in newborns, with a special focus on patients with complex fluid and electrolyte requirements, including premature, very low birth weight (VLBW), and extremely low birth weight (ELBW) neonates, as well as patients who have undergone abdominal surgery and those who have sepsis.