Electrolyte Imbalance

Electrolytes are the salts and minerals that affect the amount of water in your body, muscle activity, and other important functions. Electrolytes are in your blood, urine and body fluids. When you maintain the right balance of electrolytes, this helps your body’s blood chemistry, muscle action and other processes.

Calcium, sodium, potassium, phosphate, chlorine, bicarbonate, and magnesium are all electrolytes, which you get from the foods you eat and the fluids you drink.

Levels of electrolytes in your body can become too low or too high. That can happen when the amount of water in your body changes. Problems most often occur with levels of sodium, potassium or calcium. Some causes of electrolyte imbalance:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Some medicines
  • Sweating
  • Kidney problems
  • Taking laxatives

Diarrhea can cause dehydration, which means the body has lost too much fluid and too many electrolytes and can’t function properly. Dehydration is particularly dangerous in children and in older adults and must be treated promptly to avoid serious health problems.

The fluid and electrolytes lost during diarrhea need to be replaced promptly because the body cannot function without them. Depending on the cause of the problem, a person might also need medication to stop the diarrhea or treat an infection.

Although water is extremely important in preventing dehydration, it does not contain electrolytes. Broth and soups that contain sodium, and fruit juices, soft fruits, or vegetables that contain potassium, help restore electrolyte levels.

Children may need an oral rehydration solution to replace lost fluid and electrolytes. Over-the-counter (OTC) rehydration solutions such as Ceralyte, Pedialyte, and Infalyte are also good electrolyte sources and are especially recommended for use in children.

Call the doctor if the person with diarrhea has severe pain in the abdomen or rectum, a fever of 102 degrees or higher, blood in the stool, signs of dehydration, or diarrhea for more than 3 days.

Some warning signs of electrolyte imbalance:

  • Dry mouth
  • Thirst
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Lethargy
  • Drowsiness
  • Restlessness
  • Muscle pains or cramps
  • Hypotension
  • Oliguria
  • Tachycardia
  • Gastrointestinal disturbance

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