Causes and Symptoms of Electrolyte Imbalance
Table of Contents
Electrolyte imbalance is a condition that can lead to serious health problems if not addressed. Here are some of the most common symptoms and how you can fix them.
What are electrolytes, and what do they do? Electrolytes are nutrients (or chemicals) found in your body that serve a variety of tasks, including controlling your heartbeat and enabling your muscles to contract and move.
Calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, phosphate, and chloride are the main electrolytes present in the body. An electrolyte imbalance may produce a range of severe unpleasant symptoms, including potentially fatal since these essential minerals help activate nerves throughout the body and regulate fluid levels.
Electrolytes are obtained by eating specific meals and drinking certain fluids, and they are partly lost via activity, sweating, going to the toilet, and peeing. This is why an electrolyte imbalance may be caused by a bad diet, too little or too much activity, or being ill.
Electrolytes play several essential functions in the body, including:
- Calcium aids muscle contractions, nerve signaling, blood coagulation, cell division, bone and tooth formation, and maintenance.
- Potassium aids in the maintenance of blood pressure, the regulation of cardiac contractions, and muscular function.
- Magnesium is required for muscular contractions, regular heart rhythms, neuron function, bone formation and strength, anxiety reduction, digestion, and maintaining a stable protein-fluid balance.
- Sodium is essential for maintaining fluid equilibrium, muscular contractions, and nerve transmission.
- Chloride is a mineral that helps to keep the body’s fluid balance in check.
Function of Electrolytes and Causes of Imbalance
Electrolytes may be present in a variety of body fluids such as urine, blood, and sweat. Electrolytes get their name from the fact that they have an “electric charge.” When dissolved in water, they split into positively and negatively charged ions.
The importance of this is due to the way nerve responses occur. Your nerves communicate with one another through chemical exchanges involving oppositely charged ions on both the exterior and interior of your cells.
A variety of things may induce an electrolyte imbalance, including short-term diseases, medicines, dehydration, and underlying chronic conditions. However, fluid loss, which may occur due to a variety of circumstances, is one of the most frequent causes of electrolyte imbalance.
- Being ill with symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, sweating, or high fevers, all of which may lead to fluid loss and dehydration.
- A diet is deficient in vital nutrients derived from whole foods.
- Malabsorption is the inability to absorb nutrients from meals as a result of intestinal or digestive problems.
- Endocrine diseases and hormonal imbalances
- Taking some medicines, such as those for cancer, heart disease, and hormone imbalances
- Antibiotics, over-the-counter diuretics or medicines, or corticosteroid hormones are all examples of drugs that should be avoided.
- Kidney injury or disease (since the kidneys are responsible for controlling chloride levels in the blood as well as “flushing out” potassium, magnesium, and sodium)
- Chemotherapy therapies may result in low blood calcium or deficiency and alterations in blood potassium levels and other electrolyte deficits.
- Being on the keto diet causes you to lose much water weight and drain critical electrolytes out of your systems, such as magnesium, potassium, and sodium, even if you drink a lot of water. Bone broth is a beautiful method to replace these and obtain additional minerals and amino acids naturally.
Electrolyte Imbalance Symptoms
Because electrolytes play so many various functions in the body, an imbalance will usually result in visible changes in your mood. Depending on the kind of electrolyte imbalance you have, you may have the following symptoms:
- Aches, spasms, cramps, and weakening in the muscles
- Headaches that occur often
- I’m very thirsty.
- Palpitations or irregular heartbeats are symptoms of heart palpitations.
- Cramps, constipation, or diarrhea are all symptoms of digestive problems.
- Confusion and inability to concentrate
- Disorders of the bones
- Joint discomfort
- Changes in blood pressure
- Appetite or body weight changes
- Tiredness (including chronic fatigue syndrome)
- Joint numbness and discomfort
- Dizziness, particularly when abruptly standing up
Your doctor may use a variety of tests to assess your electrolyte levels to identify an electrolyte imbalance. In addition, your health care provider will most likely go over your medical history with you, as well as any recurring symptoms you have, and do a urine and blood test to look for any abnormalities.
An EKG test, ultrasound, or X-rays of your kidneys may also be required to check for severe electrolyte imbalances that may put you at risk for cardiac problems.
Any significant variations in optimum electrolyte levels, such as extremely high or low potassium, magnesium, or sodium levels, will be investigated by your doctor. Because the body works so hard to maintain electrolyte concentrations within a limited range, they are typically simple to detect. Electrolyte imbalance is identified when a number is either greater or lower than the typical limits shown below:
- 5–5.5 mEq/L calcium
- 97–107 mEq/L chloride
- 5–5.3 mEq/L potassium
- 1.5-2.5 mEq/L Magnesium
- Sodium concentration: 136–145 mEq/L
How do you know when you should see a doctor to see whether you have an electrolyte imbalance? First, suppose you recognize yourself in any of the electrolyte imbalance symptoms listed below. In that case, it’s time to see a doctor about correcting the issue and preventing it from occurring again. Here are some of the most frequent symptoms of electrolyte imbalance, along with some information on what causes each one:
- Changes in Heartbeat: Hyperkalemia occurs when potassium levels increase to dangerously high levels. This disrupts the standard transmission of nerve impulses to muscles, causing muscles to become weak, tingling, or numb. On the other hand, high potassium levels may affect your pulse and produce fast rhythms that make you feel uneasy. High calcium levels also impact the circulatory system and the electrical transmission channels of the heart. Thus highly high calcium levels are another frequent cause of heartbeat abnormalities.
- Anxiety and Sleep Problems: Most of us are familiar with how difficult it is to fall and remain asleep when we experience muscular spasms, a racing heart, or night sweats. Even though you may feel exhausted all of the time, low magnesium levels and excessive potassium may make it difficult to obtain a decent night’s sleep due to persistent aches and mental problems.
- Muscle Spasms: Muscle weakness and spasms are often the first symptoms of dehydration or a sudden drop in potassium and magnesium levels. Constipation and cramping may also be caused by low potassium levels (hypokalemia). Muscular spasms, cramps, abdominal muscle soreness, and convulsions are all symptoms of low calcium levels (hypocalcemia).
- Digestive Issues: To assist you in going to the toilet, the muscles in your digestive system must contract correctly. Diarrhea, constipation, cramps, and hemorrhoids may all be caused by electrolyte imbalances. Nausea may also be induced by a deficiency in salt (called hyponatremia). When left untreated, this disease may lead to headaches, confusion, and breathing difficulties.
- Hypercalcemia (excess calcium in the blood): It may cause bone fractures, severe kidney stones, vomiting, and constipation. In addition, the exact condition may make you weary and weak and make it difficult to concentrate.
- Confusion, dizziness, and irritability: You may feel dizzy and weak if your sodium levels increase too quickly (hypernatremia). When this becomes worse, you may become even more hysterical and possibly have a seizure or go into a coma.
Fixing Electrolyte Imbalance
1. Make dietary changes
The first step in resolving an electrolyte imbalance is to figure out why it happened in the first place. A poor diet rich in processed foods high in sodium but low in other electrolytes like magnesium or potassium may lead to severe electrolyte imbalances in many individuals. In many instances, a slight electrolyte imbalance may be addressed by simply changing your diet and eliminating out junk food, takeaway, and restaurant meals in favor of preparing more fresh foods at home.
Concentrate your diet, on the whole, unprocessed foods, particularly potassium- and magnesium-rich vegetables and fruits. Leafy greens, cruciferous foods like broccoli or cabbage, starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes or squash, bananas, and avocados are among the finest. Low potassium levels, which may lead to blood pressure issues, or magnesium shortage, which can cause anxiety, restlessness, and muscular cramps, are likely to be solved by magnesium or a potassium-rich diet.
Focus on these meals, which are some of the most hydrating owing to their high water content, to avoid dehydration and replenish electrolytes:
- Coconut Water
- Bell Peppers
- Fruit with a citrus flavor
- Dairy with a culture (amasai, kefir, or yogurt)
Another issue to think about is whether or not you’re getting enough calcium. Calcium may be obtained through leafy greens, other vegetables, beans, and legumes, whether or not you consume dairy products. If you can handle it, add high-quality, preferably raw dairy products to your diet to get adequate calcium naturally without using supplements. Electrolytes and other essential nutrients are abundant in foods such as organic probiotic yogurt, cultured raw cheeses, and raw milk.
2. Keep an eye on your sodium intake
When you do eat packaged or processed meals, be sure to check the sodium content. Because sodium is an electrolyte that affects the body’s capacity to retain or release water, a high-sodium diet causes more water to be expelled by the kidneys, which may interfere with the balance of other electrolytes.
The following is how sodium functions in the body: Water follows salt, so if you raise sodium too much, you’ll also have water retention. Simultaneously, the inverse is also true: A lack of salt causes a loss of water, which may lead to dehydration and severe thirst. Hypernatremia (the condition that occurs when too much water is lost or too much salt is acquired) is more prevalent in elderly individuals, diabetics, and those who consume highly processed foods. People may also lose a lot of salt if they have diarrhea, use certain diuretics or laxatives, or exercise to extremes and overtrain without keeping hydrated, all of which create their issues.
Bloating, tiredness, dehydration, weakness, irritability, and muscular twitching may all be avoided by tracking how much salt you eat. Other essential electrolytes may be obtained by drinking enough water and eating mainly natural foods (not packaged meals!).
3. Get Plenty of Water
When the quantity of water in your body varies, electrolyte imbalances may occur, resulting in either dehydration (not enough water compared to certainly raised electrolytes) or overhydration (too much water compared to certain high electrolytes) (too much water). Drinking adequate water without diluting your cells prevents sodium and potassium levels from being too high or too low.
What is the ideal quantity of water for you? It all depends on your requirements. For example, do you work out regularly? Do you live in a hot environment where you sweat a lot? Do you consume a lot of water-rich fruits and vegetables, or do you consume more processed foods?
While the conventional advice has always been “eight glasses of water per day,” this isn’t always the optimum quantity for everyone since your food, age, degree of physical activity, and body size all influence how much water you need. However, a reasonable rule of thumb is to drink enough water to make you pee every three to four hours, which is eight to ten eight-ounce glasses each day for most people.
Make sure to refill with lots of water and electrolytes if you engage in strenuous activity (particularly in warm/hot weather, which increases perspiration production) (like premade formulas that include sodium). Keep in mind that if you’ve been ill (especially with a fever that produces vomiting or diarrhea), you’ve lost fluids and should drink more. You’re at risk for dehydration, kidney stones, bladder infections, urinary tract stones, and even heart failure if you don’t. That is why it is essential to avoid dehydration. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding and adolescents who grow and develop at a quicker pace than others need more fluids (10–13 cups per day) to remain hydrated and avoid deficiencies.
Is there such a thing as too much water? Overhydration is uncommon, but it does happen. Because your kidneys cannot eliminate large amounts of extra water, electrolytes in your blood may become diluted. As a result, low sodium levels may ensue, which is more frequent among endurance athletes (who typically attempt to compensate for sweating by drinking a lot of water) but less likely to occur in someone eating a high-salt American diet.
4. Review Your Prescriptions
Antibiotics, diuretics, hormone drugs, blood pressure medicines, and cancer therapies all can alter electrolyte levels. Electrolyte abnormalities are most often seen in cancer patients who are undergoing chemotherapy. Their symptoms, including elevated blood calcium levels or other abnormalities as cancer cells die off, maybe extremely severe if not appropriately treated.
Potassium and sodium levels in the blood and urine are also affected by laxatives or diuretics. Potassium-sparing diuretics cause potassium levels to remain highly high while other electrolytes, including sodium, calcium, and magnesium, decrease to dangerously low levels. Anxiety, racing heartbeats, digestive problems, and insomnia are all symptoms of this condition. Hormonal interactions from antidiuretic hormone medicines, aldosterone, and thyroid hormones may also cause electrolyte abnormalities. Even high levels of physiological stress may wreak havoc on hormones, causing fluid and electrolyte levels to become unbalanced.
If you experience changes in your mood, energy, heartbeat, or sleep after starting a new medicine or supplement, speak to your doctor about potentially adjusting your dosage to reduce the risk of electrolyte imbalance.
5. Refuel After Your Workout
Athletes often ingest fluids and electrolytes (typically in additional sodium) during and after training. Electrolyte replenishment has long been well-known advice, which is why sports drinks and improved waters are popular among athletes. It’s critical to stay hydrated before, during, and after exercise, and it’s also essential to replace your electrolyte reserves if you’re training for an extended length of time since certain electrolytes (particularly sodium) are lost when you sweat.
To compensate for the fluid loss caused by exercise, drink an additional 1.5 to 2.5 cups of water for shorter exercises and three cups for longer workouts lasting more than an hour. Dehydration and deficiencies may cause cardiovascular problems (changes in heartbeats), muscular cramps, tiredness, dizziness, and disorientation if there isn’t enough water in your body. Not only will this reduce your total aerobic performance, but it may also lead you to faint out or, in rare cases, create severe problems such as a heart attack.
To re-establish “normal” bodily water levels, both water and sodium must be supplied after exercises. After an exercise, you don’t need to go crazy guzzling water, but you should have a balanced lunch and drink enough water for the remainder of the day. Likewise, if you start to feel dizzy or cramping, drink plenty of water and take electrolytes until you feel better.
6. Consider Adding Supplements
Some individuals may be chronically low in electrolytes due to high-stress levels, hereditary factors, or pre-existing medical problems. Many individuals are deficient in magnesium and potassium, two electrolytes. Taking magnesium supplements regularly may help restore reserves and avoid magnesium shortage, which can cause symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia, and muscular cramps. Potassium and magnesium are often included in multivitamins; however, to ensure adequate absorption of these electrolytes, make sure you take a high-quality, food-based vitamin rather than any poisonous and full of garbage pills.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the fastest way to treat electrolyte imbalance?
A: To treat electrolyte imbalance, you should drink a lot of water and avoid sugary foods.
How do you get electrolytes back in your body?
A: Electrolytes are minerals that help maintain the balance of fluids in your body. They can be found in most foods, but you may need to supplement if you do not eat enough of them.
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