Definition, Symptoms of Imbalance, Causes and Prevention

Overview

Electrolytes are chemicals that naturally have negative or positive electrical charges when dissolved in water. They help the body regulate chemical reactions, maintain the balance between fluids inside and outside cells, and more. Electrolytes are also essential for diagnosing various diseases and medical conditions in your body.

What are Electrolytes?

Electrolytes are chemicals that conduct electricity when dissolved in water. The human body gets electrolytes or components from what they eat and drink. An adult’s body consists of about 60% water, which means that almost all fluids and cells in our body contain electrolytes.

However, maintaining a healthy level of electrolytes is essential for maintaining a healthy body. Electrolyte levels can change in relation to water levels, including other factors.

Several events can disrupt electrolyte levels. We lose electrolytes through our sweat. Our kidneys also filter excess electrolytes from our body and into the urine to maintain electrolyte balance. We can also lose electrolytes through vomiting, diarrhea, etc.

What are the signs of an electrolyte imbalance?

Since electrolytes are necessary for important bodily functions, an increase or decrease in their number is immediately noticeable. Some symptoms of electrolyte imbalance are:

  1. Dizziness
  2. Cramps
  3. Mental confusion
  4. Irregular heartbeat

Why are electrolytes essential for our body?

Electrolytes keep our bodies hydrated, help rebuild damaged tissue, and balance acidity and pressure in the blood. Our muscle, heart and nerve cells use electrolytes to carry electrical impulses to other cells. Electrolytes also help regulate nerve and muscle function and keep our hearts and brains working the way they should.

Electrolytes also play a critical role in maintaining:

Healthy water balance

The amount of water in our body must be in balance with our electrolyte levels. Electrolytes help balance the amount of water in our body. Dehydration from sweating, diarrhea, vomiting, including liver problems, can upset that balance.

Muscle fitness

Electrolytes (including the electrical charges they carry) are an essential part of how our muscles work. The muscles and neurons (sometimes referred to as ‘electric tissue’) rely on the movement of electrolytes through fluid inside, outside, or between cells. For example, our muscles need sodium, potassium and calcium to contract. Low electrolyte levels can lead to loss of reflexes, cramps, muscle spasms and even paralysis, in certain extreme cases.

heart health

Phosphorus and potassium are especially important for the healthy functioning of our heart. Abnormal heart rhythms can occur when potassium levels fall too low. In addition, extremely high potassium levels can also be risky, possibly causing the heart to stop beating. Low phosphorus levels are linked to the risk of seizures, coma and heart failure.

  • Other essential roles that electrolytes play include:
  • Helps balance our body’s acid/base (pH) levels.
  • Help move nutrients into cells
  • Helps waste products out of the cells

Roles of some major electrolyte components

Electrolyte components play an important role in keeping our body healthy. Each electrolyte plays a precise role in our body. The following are some of the most essential electrolyte components and their primary functions:

chloride

  • essential for digestion
  • Helps balance electrolytes
  • balances alkalinity and acidity to maintain a healthy pH

sodium

  • Helps control fluids in our body, which affect blood pressure
  • Necessary for nerve and muscle function

potassium

  • Helps balance electrolytes
  • regulates heart and blood pressure
  • Helps transmit nerve impulses
  • Necessary for muscle contraction
  • Contributes to bone health

magnesium

  • Contributes to muscle and nerve function
  • Helps maintain heart rhythm
  • Strengthens the immune system
  • Helps regulate blood sugar levels

calcium

  • Important for muscle movement and for the movement of nerve impulses
  • Main part of teeth and bones
  • Contributes to blood clotting

phosphate

  • Strengthens teeth and bones
  • Helps cells produce the energy needed for tissue growth and repair

Bicarbonate

  • Helps your body maintain a healthy pH
  • Regulates heart function

What can cause electrolyte imbalance?

An imbalance in electrolyte levels can be caused by:

  • Loss of fluid through persistent sweating or fever, vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Not enough food or drink
  • Chronic respiratory problems, such as emphysema
  • Metabolic alkalosis (higher than normal blood pH)
  • Medicines such as diuretics, laxatives and steroids

How to prevent electrolyte imbalance?

The following tips can help maintain proper hydration and electrolyte balance:

  1. Drink plenty of water during physical activity. If you exercise for more than 75 minutes, drink a sports drink with electrolytes.
  2. Do not rehydrate with energy drinks or fizzy drinks. They can cause a sudden spike in blood sugar.
  3. Eat a balanced diet with foods rich in electrolytes. For example, adding sweet potatoes, oranges, bananas, mushrooms, etc. to the diet can help our body avoid potassium deficiency.
  4. Do not engage in strenuous outdoor activities in hot weather

If you notice a warning sign of an electrolyte imbalance, have your electrolyte levels checked and do so consult a doctor to obtain medical advice.

Conclusion

Electrolytes are the most important part of how our bodies function, affecting everything from hydration to how our heart rate. They can also help doctors diagnose a wide variety of diseases and medical conditions. Understanding electrolytes, including the potential concerns surrounding them, can help us take care of ourselves and help us avoid future health problems and negatively impact your life and routine.

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