The human body is made up of cells, and each cell has a negatively charged interior and a positively charged exterior. This separation of charges gives each cell a small electrical voltage. This voltage is what drives many cellular processes, including muscle contraction and nerve impulses. Electrolytes are minerals in the blood, urine, and tissues that have an electric charge. They are needed for the proper functioning of nerves and muscles. These minerals are important for many functions in your body, including: maintaining fluid balance regulating blood pressure transmitting nerve impulses controlling muscle contractions supporting the structure of your bones and teeth. When you sweat, you lose electrolytes. You also lose electrolytes when you urinate more than usual or have diarrhea. If you don't replace the electrolytes you lose, you can become dehydrated. Dehydration can lead to serious health problems, such as heat stroke, kidney failure, or seizures. Electrolyte balance is the level of these minerals in the body.
An electrolyte imbalance can occur when there is too much or too little of one or more electrolytes. The most common electrolyte imbalances are:
Hyponatremia: too little sodium in the blood
Hypernatremia: too much sodium in the blood
Hypokalemia: too little potassium in the blood
Hyperkalemia: too much potassium in the blood
Hypochloremia: too little chloride in the blood
Hyperchloremia: too much chloride in the blood
Electrolyte imbalances can be caused by many factors, including diet, medications, and medical conditions.
Diet: A diet that is high in salt can cause hyponatremia. A diet that is low in potassium can cause hypokalemia.
Medications: Some medications, such as diuretics and certain cancer treatments, can cause electrolyte imbalances.
Medical conditions: Many medical conditions can cause electrolyte imbalances. These include kidney disease, heart failure, and liver disease.
An electrolyte imbalance can be serious and even life-threatening. Treatment of an electrolyte imbalance usually involves replacing the electrolyte that is too low or taking medications to stop the electrolyte that is too high from being removed from the body. Electrolyte imbalances are common and can be caused by many factors.
Symptoms of an electrolyte imbalance include: Muscle weakness Muscle cramps Nausea Vomiting Diarrhea Constipation Fatigue Headache Restlessness Confusion Irritability Tingling or numbness Heart arrhythmia If you have any of these symptoms, it is important to see a doctor. They can do a blood test to check your electrolyte levels and help you find the cause of the problem.