What Are Electrolytes and How Do They Affect the Body?

What Are Electrolytes and How Do They Affect the Body?

Your body needs to be nourished with a balance of nutrients to function properly and feel healthy. It’s important to remember to drink enough water, eat food and maintain a well-balanced diet so you feel great. A factor you need to consider if you’re feeling down is your electrolyte balance.

Electrolytes are a crucial part of keeping your cells and body healthy. Learn how to tell if your electrolytes are low and how you can balance the electrolytes in your body below. 

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What Are Electrolytes?

Electrolytes play a significant role in many body processes. Electrolytes are minerals with an electric charge found in numerous areas of the body, from urine to blood, tissues, sweat and other cells.

The minerals become electrolytes after they dissolve in a fluid. They are positive or negative ions that work to complete various processes in the body.

Some of the electrolytes found in the body are:

  • Potassium
  • Chloride
  • Sodium
  • Phosphate
  • Magnesium
  • Calcium

Electrolytes help complete tasks throughout the body. Check out the various systems that rely on electrolytes to function and continue living a healthy life:

  • Muscle function: Calcium is an essential electrolyte for enabling muscle contractions throughout the body. This includes the function of your heart. Magnesium is another electrolyte necessary for muscle fibers and their ability to relax after contracting.
  • Nervous system: The nervous system requires adequate amounts of sodium for its nervous impulse signals to travel throughout the body. These signals are responsible for communicating feelings and movement throughout the nervous system.
  • Internal pH: Electrolytes help regulate the body’s internal pH levels so you continue feeling healthy. This process occurs with your blood pH levels, making sure it stays within a certain range so you can feel great.
  • Hydration: Staying hydrated is essential to feeling good and staying healthy. Electrolytes help maintain hydration by balancing fluids inside and outside of your cells. 

How Does the Body Become Low on Electrolytes?

Many situations can cause your body to have a low electrolyte count. This imbalance can be harmful to your health and have a significant impact on how you feel.

Numerous factors lower electrolyte levels. Conditions or problems that may cause an electrolyte imbalance can include:

  • Sweating from prolonged heat exposure
  • Persistent vomiting or diarrhea from an illness
  • Not drinking enough fluids or eating enough food
  • Consuming medications like laxatives or steroids
  • Experiencing chronic respiratory issues
  • Having a higher blood pH
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Kidney disease and other conditions
  • Cancer treatment
  • Eating disorders

When your body has too little or too many electrolytes, it begins to show symptoms of imbalance. Doctors can monitor electrolyte levels in individuals who believe they have an imbalance or are feeling unwell. The testing for electrolytes is completed through a blood test. The doctors or medical professionals will monitor levels until the electrolytes that are too low or high make their way back to normal levels. Potassium and sodium are common electrolytes to become imbalanced.

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How Can You Tell Your Body Has an Electrolyte Imbalance?

How Can You Tell Your Body Has an Electrolyte Imbalance?

Monitoring for symptoms if you’re concerned about an electrolyte imbalance can help you find treatment quickly. It’s essential to replenish specific electrolytes when you notice you’re not feeling well to keep your body working right and stay healthy.

Some specific signs of electrolyte imbalances include:

  • Chloride: Low chloride levels are often not noticeable. Since chloride is closely tied to sodium, looking out for sodium imbalance symptoms can help you spot out low or high chloride levels.
  • Sodium: The symptoms of low or high levels of sodium include confusion, headaches, personality changes and lethargy. Extreme drops in sodium levels can potentially become life-threatening, which includes seizures or death.
  • Magnesium: Signs of low magnesium levels include muscle cramps, muscle spasms, weakness and other symptoms that are similar to the signs of low potassium or calcium. High levels of magnesium may cause breathing problems, low blood pressure and heart issues.
  • Potassium: People may not experience symptoms when they have low levels of potassium, but regular low levels may cause abnormal heart rhythms or impact how the body stores glycogen. Extremely low levels may cause cramps, muscle weakness, muscle spasms and respiratory problems. High potassium levels may not show symptoms, but the body may experience muscle weakness.
  • Calcium: The signs of low calcium levels can include changes in nails, skin or hair, cataracts or yeast infections. Extremely low levels of calcium may cause muscle spasms, alter the body’s reflexes or cause seizures. High levels of calcium may cause nausea, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, constipation and bowel obstruction. Extremely high levels of calcium may potentially cause confusion, mood swings, kidney failure, shock or death. 
  • Phosphate: Low phosphate levels may cause symptoms like respiratory failure, seizure, muscle weakness, heart failure or coma. Low phosphate levels typically occur because of poor nutrition or other chronic conditions.

Other general symptoms of an electrolyte imbalance include:

  • Weakness
  • Confusion
  • High or low blood pressure
  • Fatigue
  • Bone disorders
  • Muscle spasms or twitching
  • Numbness
  • Nervous system disorders
  • Convulsions
  • Seizures

IV Therapy to Balance Electrolytes

Treatment for imbalanced electrolytes depends on the severity of the imbalance. For people who have a typical imbalance, levels may balance over time. In some cases, medical professionals will simply supplement them with the electrolytes that are low and continue monitoring their levels. If the electrolyte deficiency is severe, more intense treatments may be required to help level out the electrolytes in a person’s body.

Another way individuals can fix electrolyte imbalance symptoms on their own is through IV therapy. IV therapy is a treatment option that delivers fluids and medication through an IV. The IV fluids contain minerals and vitamins that can help replenish the body and boost low electrolytes to help you start feeling more like yourself. IV treatments allow fluids to enter the body fast and help relieve uncomfortable symptoms quickly. You can receive IV treatment through Mobile IV Medics to help balance electrolytes. 

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About the author

Brad
Brad Wenderoth, Pharm.D.

Brad Wenderoth, Pharm.D. is a licensed pharmacist and co-owner of Mobile IV Medics. With over 16 years of healthcare experience, Brad is bringing his expertise and passion for patient care to the Mobile IV Medics patient population. Prior to Mobile IV Medics, Brad worked in varying areas including both direct patient care and hospital leadership at Keck Medicine of the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles, nationwide health system pharmacy consulting for Comprehensive Pharmacy Services (CPS), and professor of pharmacy at the USC School of Pharmacy. He holds a doctorate in pharmacy from the University of Arizona, a pharmacy practice residency from USC, and a lean six sigma green belt from Johns Hopkins.