HomeLiving HealthyGeneral HealthElectrolytes: Definition, Imbalance Symptoms, Causes and Prevention

Electrolytes: Definition, Imbalance Symptoms, Causes and Prevention

Overview

Electrolytes are chemical substances that possess natural negative or positive electrical charges when dissolved in water. They help the body to regulate chemical reactions, maintain the balance between fluids inside and outside the cells, and more. Electrolytes are also essential to diagnose various diseases and medical conditions in your body.

What are Electrolytes?

Electrolytes are chemical substances that conduct electricity when dissolved in water. The human body gets electrolytes or components from what they eat and drink. An adult’s body has about 60% water, meaning almost all fluids and cells in our body have electrolytes.

However, sustaining healthy levels of electrolytes is essential to maintaining a healthy body. Electrolyte levels may change in relation to water levels, including other factors.

Several occurrences can disrupt electrolyte levels. We lose electrolytes through our sweat. Our also kidneys filter excess electrolytes out of our bodies and into the urine to maintain electrolyte balance. We may also lose electrolytes due to vomiting, diarrhea, etc. 

What are the signs of electrolyte imbalance?

As electrolytes are needed for important body functions, an increase or decrease in their number can be seen immediately. Some symptoms of electrolyte imbalance are:

  1. Dizziness
  2. Cramps
  3. Mental confusion
  4. Irregular heartbeat

Why are Electrolytes Essential for Our Body?

Electrolytes keep our body hydrated, help rebuild damaged tissue and balance blood acidity and pressure. Our muscle, heart and nerve cells use electrolytes to help carry electrical impulses to other cells. Electrolytes also help in regulating the nerve and muscle function ensuring that our heart and brain work the way they should.

Electrolytes also play a vital role in maintaining:

Healthy Water Balance

The amount of water in our body must be balanced with our electrolyte levels. Electrolytes help balance the amount of water in our bodies. Dehydration from sweating, diarrhea, vomiting, including liver problems, may upset that balance.

Muscle Health

Electrolytes (including electrical charges they carry), are an essential part of how our muscles work. The muscles and neurons (sometimes referred to as ‘electric tissues’) rely on the movement of electrolytes through fluid inside, outside, or between the cells. For instance, our muscle needs sodium, potassium and calcium to contract. Low electrolyte levels can lead to loss of reflexes, cramps, muscle spasms and even paralysis, in certain extreme cases

Heart Health

Phosphorus and potassium are especially important for healthy function of our heart. Abnormal heart rhythms can occur when potassium levels gets too low. Besides, extremely high potassium levels can also be risky, potentially stopping the heart from beating. Low phosphorus levels are linked to the risk of seizures, coma and heart failure.

  • Other essential roles electrolytes play include:
  • Helping to balance the acid/base (pH) levels of our body
  • Helping in moving nutrients into the cells
  • Helping to carry wastes out of the cells

Roles of some key electrolyte component

Electrolyte components play a significant role in keeping our body healthy. Each electrolyte plays a precise role in our body. The following are some of the most essential electrolyte components and their primary functions:

Chloride

  • Essential to digestion
  • Helps balance electrolytes
  • balances alkalinity and acidity to help maintain a healthy pH

Sodium

  • Helps in controlling fluids in our body, impacting blood pressure
  • Necessary for nerve and muscle function

Potassium

  • Helps balance electrolytes
  • regulates heart and blood pressure
  • Helps in transmitting nerve impulses
  • Necessary for muscle contraction
  • Contributes to bone health

Magnesium

  • Contributes to muscle and nerve function
  • Helps in maintaining heart rhythm
  • Enhances immune system
  • Helps in regulating blood glucose levels

Calcium

  • Important for muscle movement and to the movement of nerve impulses
  • Key component of teeth and bones
  • Contributes to blood clotting

Phosphate

  • Strengthens teeth and bones
  • Helps the cells to produce the energy required for tissue growth and repair

Bicarbonate

  • Helps your body maintain a healthy pH
  • Regulates heart function

What May Cause Electrolyte Imbalance?

Imbalance in the levels of electrolytes can be caused by:

  • Loss of fluids due to persistent sweating or fever, vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Not eating or drinking enough
  • Chronic respiratory problems, like emphysema
  • Metabolic alkalosis (higher-than-normal blood pH)
  • Medicines like diuretics, laxatives and steroids

How to Prevent Electrolyte Imbalance?

The following tips may help maintain good hydration and electrolyte balance:

  1. Drink plenty of water during physical activity. If you are working out for more than 75 minutes, sip a sports drink having electrolytes.
  2. Do not rehydrate with energy drinks or carbonated beverages. They may cause a sudden spike in the blood sugar levels.
  3. Eat a balanced diet containing electrolyte-rich foods. For instance, adding sweet potatoes, oranges, bananas, mushrooms, etc in the diet can help our body ward off potassium deficiency. 
  4. Do not engage in strenuous activity outdoors during hot weather

If you experience any warning sign of an electrolyte imbalance, get your electrolyte levels checked and do consult a doctor to seek medical advice.

Conclusion

Electrolytes are the most important part of how our body functions, affecting everything from hydration to how our heartbeats. They can also help physicians diagnose a wide variety of diseases and medical conditions. Understanding electrolytes, including the potential concerns around them, can help care for our self, and help us avoid future health problems and negatively affecting your life and routine.

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