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Electrolyte disorders result in an imbalance of minerals in the body. For the body to function properly, certain minerals need to be maintained in an even balance. Otherwise, vital body systems, such as the muscles and brain, can be negatively affected.
Electrolytes refer to minerals that include calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphate, potassium, and sodium. They are present in your blood, body fluids, and urine. They are ingested with food, drink, and medicines and supplements.
Elevated levels of an electrolyte begin with the prefix “hyper-“. Depleted levels of an electrolyte begin with “hypo-“.
Conditions caused by electrolyte level imbalances include:
Each electrolyte disorder may be caused by several conditions. The most common cause is medication. They can also be caused by trauma from burns or broken bones. Diseases such as cancer and thyroid disorders are also sometimes to blame
The most common causes of electrolyte disorders are:
Anyone can develop an electrolyte disorder. Some people are more likely to because of their personal health history. For example, people with kidney disease might develop several electrolyte disorders. This is because their kidneys are not able to filter the minerals as well as healthy kidneys.
Other conditions that increase a person’s risk include:
Mild forms of electrolyte disorders may cause no symptoms. The disorder can go undetected until it’s stumbled upon during a routine blood test. If the disorders become more severe, symptoms might start to appear. Not all imbalances cause the same symptoms. Each type of electrolyte disorder can cause an array of symptoms. However, several of the disorders share many of the same symptoms.
Common symptoms of an electrolyte disorder include:
A blood test can measure the level of electrolytes and minerals in the blood. Doctors can perform a physical exam or order additional tests to confirm a suspected electrolyte disorder.
For example, hypernatremia can cause loss of elasticity in the skin. A doctor can perform a pinch test to see if the disorder is affecting the skin. Doctors may also test reflexes. Both increased and depleted levels of some electrolytes can affect reflexes.
Treatment depends both on which disorder a patient has and what the underlying problem is that causes the imbalance in the first place.
Treatments that may be used to restore balance:
Once the imbalance has been corrected, a doctor will treat the underlying cause. This will prevent future electrolyte imbalances.
Written by: Kimberly Holland
Medically reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA
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