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Electrolyte Imbalance


Healthgrades Editorial Staff

What is electrolyte imbalance?

Electrolytes are essential minerals in your body that are necessary for nerve and muscle function, the body-fluid balance, and other critical processes. They are particles that can carry an electrical charge and are present in your blood, plasma, urine, and other fluids. Electrolytes exist in the form of calcium, chlorine, magnesium, phosphate, potassium, and sodium that can be obtained from fluids, supplements, and foods. For example, bananas are excellent sources of potassium.

The balance of electrolytes is constantly shifting due to fluctuating fluid levels in your body. For example, when you sweat as a result of exercise, hot weather, or illness, some electrolyte levels may be low. Vomiting and diarrhea are other causes of electrolyte imbalances, as they result in excessive fluid loss. You must replenish these fluids and electrolytes in order to prevent dehydration, a potentially life-threatening condition.

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Electrolyte imbalances can be caused by a deficiency or an overabundance of minerals in the body. For example, hyperkalemia and hypercalcemia are indicative of excess amounts of potassium and calcium, respectively, which can disrupt the overall balance and functioning of the nerves, cardiovascular system, and muscles.

Vomiting and diarrhea, excessive heat, and severe illness are causes of electrolyte imbalance that can lead to dehydration. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for serious symptoms, such as low blood pressure, tachycardia (rapid heart rate), sunken eyes, confusion or loss of consciousness for even a brief moment, and poor skin elasticity.

Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Aug 31, 2016

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Medical References

  1. Fluid and electrolyte balance. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.
  2. Electrolytes. Lab Tests Online.

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