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Electrolyte Disorders: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis And Treatment

Electrolytes are substances that are present in the body and they are vital for regulating nerve and muscle function, balancing blood acidity, hydrating the body and help in rebuilding damaged tissues. Electrolytes are found in the blood, urine and bodily fluids. But, sometimes an imbalance in the electrolytes can lead to an electrolyte disorder, which we are going to discuss in this article.

What Causes Electrolyte Disorders [1]

The electrolytes that are naturally present in the body are sodium, calcium, chloride, phosphate, potassium, chloride, and magnesium. These electrolytes need to be stabilized for the proper functioning of the body. So, when there are too high or too low levels of electrolytes in the body, electrolyte disorder occurs.

For example, the muscles of the body require potassium, calcium and sodium to contract. When there is an imbalance in these electrolytes muscle weakness or excessive contraction in the muscles occurs.

This imbalance in electrolytes can occur due to various factors like diarrhoea, vomiting or sweating during exercise. And this can sometimes lead to serious problems like coma, seizures and cardiac arrest.

The exact cause may differ depending on the specific type of electrolyte disorder.

Types Of Electrolyte Disorders [2]

  • Calcium: Hypercalcemia (high calcium levels) and hypocalcemia (low calcium levels).
  • Magnesium: Hypermagnesemia (excess amount of magnesium) and hypomagnesemia (less amount of magnesium)
  • Potassium: Hyperkalemia (high levels of potassium) and hypokalemia (low levels of potassium)
  • Chloride: Hyperchloremia (excess chloride levels) and hypochloremia (inadequate chloride levels)
  • Phosphate: Hyperphosphatemia (high levels of phosphate) or hypophosphatemia (low levels of phosphate)
  • Sodium: Hypernatremia (high sodium levels) and hyponatremia ( low sodium levels)

Symptoms Of Electrolyte Disorders [3]

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Irritability
  • Muscle weakness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Seizures
  • Headache
  • Numbness
  • Confusion

Risk Factors Of Electrolyte Disorders [1]

  • Kidney diseases
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Adrenal gland disorders
  • Alcohol use disorders
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Liver cirrhosis
  • Eating disorders
  • Trauma

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Diagnosis Of Electrolyte Disorders [4]

After the physical examination is done, some tests are recommended by the doctor which include the following:

  • Blood test - It evaluates the levels of electrolytes in the body.
  • Pinch test - The doctor pinches your skin to determine whether dehydration is affecting you.
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG) - The test is done to check for any irregular heartbeats or rhythm.

Treatment Of Electrolyte Disorders [5]

Oral medications

To treat chronic mineral abnormalities in the body, oral medications and supplements are prescribed. You may be prescribed certain medications and supplements like potassium chloride, magnesium oxide, calcium gluconate, or carbonate or citrate or lactate.

Having these medicines may help replace depleted electrolytes in the body.

Intravenous (IV) fluids

To treat excess dehydration in the body, which results from diarrhoea or vomiting intravenous fluids like sodium chloride are provided to rehydrate the body.


It is a type of dialysis that uses a machine to filter waste from the blood. This treatment procedure is used when the electrolyte disorder is caused by sudden kidney damage and when other treatments aren't working.

Prevention Of Electrolyte Disorders

  • Keep yourself hydrated if you are experiencing prolonged diarrhoea, vomiting and sweating.
  • Eat foods rich in essential vitamins and minerals.
  • Consume a moderate amount of sports drink after you exercise as it can help replace the lost electrolytes caused due to sweat.
View Article References
  1. [1] Liamis, G., Rodenburg, E. M., Hofman, A., Zietse, R., Stricker, B. H., & Hoorn, E. J. (2013). Electrolyte disorders in community subjects: prevalence and risk factors.The American journal of medicine,126(3), 256-263.
  2. [2] Balcı, A. K., Koksal, O., Kose, A., Armagan, E., Ozdemir, F., Inal, T., & Oner, N. (2013). General characteristics of patients with electrolyte imbalance admitted to emergency department.World journal of emergency medicine,4(2), 113-116.
  3. [3] Weiner, M., & Epstein, F. H. (1970). Signs and symptoms of electrolyte disorders.The Yale journal of biology and medicine,43(2), 76-109.
  4. [4] Ahmad, M. S., Wahid, A., Ahmad, M., Mahboob, N., & Mehmood, R. (2016). Prevalence of electrolyte disorders among cases of diarrhea with severe dehydration and correlation of electrolyte levels with age of the patients.Journal of the College of Physicians and Surgeons--Pakistan: JCPSP,26(5), 394-398.
  5. [5] Kraft, M. D., Btaiche, I. F., Sacks, G. S., & Kudsk, K. A. (2005). Treatment of electrolyte disorders in adult patients in the intensive care unit.American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy,62(16), 1663-1682.
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