Doctor's Notes on Electrolytes
Electrolytes are small chemicals that are used in critical cellular processes to allow cells to maintain their stability to generate energy and to augment the function of many cellular metabolites. Five major electrolytes are presented; when they are abnormal or out of balance, they can produce symptoms and signs as follows:
- Sodium (Na); hypernatremia (too much) and hyponatremia (too little) may produce symptoms of lethargy, confusion, weakness, swelling, seizures, coma and/or death
- Potassium (K); hyperkalemia - life-threatening heart rhythm problems, kidney failure; hypokalemia – heart arrhythmias, muscle cramps, weakness, and constipation
- Calcium (Ca); hypercalcemia - kidney stones, abdominal pain depression and heart rhythm disturbances; hypocalcemia - weakness, muscle spasms and heart rhythm disorders
- Magnesium (Mg); - hypermagnesemia - heart rhythm disturbances, muscle weakness, nausea and vomiting, and breathing difficulties; hypomagnesemia - heart rhythm abnormalities muscle cramps and weakness, confusion, hallucinations and seizures
- Bicarbonate (HCO3); low bicarbonate - a fruity or acetone breath, warm dry skin, abdominal pain, increased urination, tachycardia, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea and hyperventilation – high bicarbonate levels - shortness of breath, anorexia, dehydration, weak muscles, high blood pressure, thin skin, acne, weight gain (Cushing’s syndrome)
There are many causes of electrolyte imbalances – this is due to constant fluctuation of fluids in the body. It is also influenced by exercise, hot weather, illnesses that include vomiting and diarrhea. Failure to hydrate your body adequately with fluids that contain electrolytes may contribute to electrolyte balances. Diet may play a role; for example, adding too much salt (Na) to foods. In addition, there are both medical and medication - related causes of electrolyte imbalances.
Medical causes of electrolyte imbalances include the following:
Medication – related causes of electrolyte imbalances may include the following:
- calcium supplements,
- potassium supplements,
- hormone treatments the are potassium-sparing, and
- angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE inhibitors).
Too much or too little sodium can cause cells to malfunction. Lethargy, confusion, weakness, swelling, seizures, and coma are some symptoms that can occur with hyper - or hyponatremia. The treatment of these conditions is dependent on the underlying cause, but it is important for the health care practitioner to understand the reason for the abnormal sodium level and correct the sodium imbalance relatively slowly. Rapid correction can cause the abnormal flow of water into or out of cells. This is especially important to prevent brain cell damage (central pontine myolysis).
The majority of the body is made up of water with up to 75% of the body's weight due to H2O. Most of the water is found within the cells of the body (intracellular space). The rest is found in the extracellular space, which consists of the blood vessels (intravascular space) and the spaces between cells (interstitial space).
Food Portion Distortion : Correct Serving Size QuizQuestion
A bagel 20 years ago was 3 inches in diameter and had 140 calories. How many calories do you think are in today's bagel?See Answer
Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.