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What are electrolytes?
Chemically, electrolytes are substances that become ions in solution and acquire the capacity to conduct electricity. Electrolytes are present in the human body, and the balance of the electrolytes in our bodies is essential for normal function of our cells and our organs.
Common electrolytes that are measured by doctors with blood testing include sodium, potassium, chloride, and bicarbonate. The functions and normal range values for these electrolytes are described below.
Sodium is the major positive ion (cation) in fluid outside of cells. The chemical notation for sodium is Na+. When combined with chloride, the resulting substance is table salt. Excess sodium (such as that obtained from dietary sources) is excreted in the urine. Sodium regulates the total amount of water in the body and the transmission of sodium into and out of individual cells also plays a role in critical body functions. Many processes in the body, especially in the brain, nervous system, and muscles, require electrical signals for communication. The movement of sodium is critical in the generation of these electrical signals. Therefore, too much or too little sodium can cause cells to malfunction, and extremes in the blood sodium levels (too much or too little) can be fatal.
- Increased sodium (hypernatremia) in the blood occurs whenever there is excess sodium in relation to water. There are numerous causes of hypernatremia; these may include kidney disease, too little water intake, and loss of water due to diarrhea and/or vomiting.
- A decreased concentration of sodium (hyponatremia) occurs whenever there is a relative increase in the amount of body water relative to sodium. This happens with some diseases of the liver and kidney, in patients with congestive heart failure, in burn victims, and in numerous other conditions.
A Normal blood sodium level is 135 - 145 milliEquivalents/liter (mEq/L), or in international units, 135 - 145 millimoles/liter (mmol/L).
Potassium is the major positive ion (cation) found inside of cells. The chemical notation for potassium is K+. The proper level of potassium is essential for normal cell function. Among the many functions of potassium in the body are regulation of the heartbeat and the function of the muscles. A seriously abnormal increase in potassium (hyperkalemia) or decrease in potassium (hypokalemia) can profoundly affect the nervous system and increases the chance of irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias), which, when extreme, can be fatal.
- Increased potassium is known as hyperkalemia. Potassium is normally excreted by the kidneys, so disorders that decrease the function of the kidneys can result in hyperkalemia. Certain medications may also predispose an individual to hyperkalemia.
- Hypokalemia, or decreased potassium, can arise due to kidney diseases; excessive losses due to heavy sweating, vomiting, diarrhea, eating disorders, certain medications, or other causes.
The normal blood potassium level is 3.5 - 5.0 milliEquivalents/liter (mEq/L), or in international units, 3.5 - 5.0 millimoles/liter (mmol/L).
Chloride is the major anion (negatively charged ion) found in the fluid outside of cells and in the blood. An anion is the negatively charged part of certain substances such as table salt (sodium chloride or NaCl) when dissolved in liquid. Chloride plays a role in helping the body maintain a normal balance of fluids.
The balance of chloride ion (Cl-) is closely regulated by the body. Significant increases or decreases in chloride can have deleterious or even fatal consequences:
- Increased chloride (hyperchloremia): Elevations in chloride may be seen in diarrhea, certain kidney diseases, and sometimes in overactivity of the parathyroid glands.
- Decreased chloride (hypochloremia): Chloride is normally lost in the urine, sweat, and stomach secretions. Excessive loss can occur from heavy sweating, vomiting, and adrenal gland and kidney disease.
The normal serum range for chloride is 98 - 108 mmol/L.
The bicarbonate ion acts as a buffer to maintain the normal levels of acidity (pH) in blood and other fluids in the body. Bicarbonate levels are measured to monitor the acidity of the blood and body fluids. The acidity is affected by foods or medications that we ingest and the function of the kidneys and lungs. The chemical notation for bicarbonate on most lab reports is HCO3- or represented as the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2). The normal serum range for bicarbonate is 22-30 mmol/L.
The bicarbonate test is usually performed along with tests for other blood electrolytes. Disruptions in the normal bicarbonate level may be due to diseases that interfere with respiratory function, kidney diseases, metabolic conditions, or other causes.
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Ascites, the accumulation of fluid in the abdominal cavity is most commonly caused by cirrhosis of the liver. Some of the other causes of ascites include portal hypertension, congestive heart failure, blood clots, and pancreatitis. The most common symptoms include increased abdominal girth and size, abdominal bloating, and abdominal pain. Treatment depends on the cause of ascites.
ColitisColitis refers to inflammation of the inner lining of the colon. Symptoms of the inflammation of the colon lining include diarrhea, pain, and blood in the stool. There are several causes of colitis, including infection, ischemia of the colon, inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, infectious colitis like C. difficile, or microscopic colitis). Treatment depends on the cause of the colitis.
Common Medical Abbreviations and Terms
Doctors, pharmacists, and other health-care professionals use abbreviations, acronyms, and other terminology for instructions and information in regard to a patient's health condition, prescription drugs they are to take, or medical procedures that have been ordered. There is no approved this list of common medical abbreviations, acronyms, and terminology used by doctors and other health- care professionals. You can use this list of medical abbreviations and acronyms written by our doctors the next time you can't understand what is on your prescription package, blood test results, or medical procedure orders. Examples include:
- ANED: Alive no evidence of disease. The patient arrived in the ER alive with no evidence of disease.
- ARF: Acute renal (kidney) failure
- cap: Capsule.
- CPAP: Continuous positive airway pressure. A treatment for sleep apnea.
- DJD: Degenerative joint disease. Another term for osteoarthritis.
- DM: Diabetes mellitus. Type 1 and type 2 diabetes
- HA: Headache
- IBD: Inflammatory bowel disease. A name for two disorders of the gastrointestinal (BI) tract, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis
- JT: Joint
- N/V: Nausea or vomiting.
- p.o.: By mouth. From the Latin terminology per os.
- q.i.d.: Four times daily. As in taking a medicine four times daily.
- RA: Rheumatoid arthritis
- SOB: Shortness of breath.
- T: Temperature. Temperature is recorded as part of the physical examination. It is one of the "vital signs."
Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) Overview
Congestive heart failure (CHF) refers to a condition in which the heart loses the ability to function properly. Heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, myocarditis, and cardiomyopathies are just a few potential causes of congestive heart failure.
Signs and symptoms of congestive heart failure may include fatigue, breathlessness, palpitations, angina, and edema. Physical examination, patient history, blood tests, and imaging tests are used to diagnose congestive heart failure.
Treatment of heart failure consists of lifestyle modification and taking medications to decrease fluid in the body and ease the strain on the heart. The prognosis of a patient with congestive heart failure depends on the stage of the heart failure and the overall condition of the individual.
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DialysisDialysis is a procedure that performs many of the normal duties of the kidneys, like filtering waste products from the blood, when the kidneys no longer work adequately. There are two types of dialysis: Hemodialysis uses a filter to remove waste products and water from the body; and peritoneal dialysis removes excess waste and fluid with a fluid that is placed into the patient's stomach cavity through a special plastic tube.
Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)An electrocardiogram is known by the acronyms "ECG" or "EKG" more commonly used for this non-invasive procedure to record the electrical activity of the heart. An EKG generally is performed as part of a routine physical exam, part of a cardiac exercise stress test, or part of the evaluation of symptoms. Symptoms evaluated include palpitations, fainting, shortness of breath, dizziness, fainting, or chest pain.
Gallbladder Pain (Gall Bladder Pain)Gallbladder pain (often misspelled "gall bladder") is generally produced by of five problems, biliary colic, cholecystitis, gallstones, and pancreatitis. Causes of gallbladder pain include intermitent blockage of ducts by gallstones or gallstone inflammation and/or sludge that also may involve irritation or infection of surrounding tissues, or when a bile duct is completely blocked. Treatment of gallbladder depends on the cause, which may include surgery.
Heat RashHeat rash is a skin irritation caused by excessive sweating. It can occur at any age and it appears as a rash that itches or feels prickly, and looks like a red cluster of pimples or small blisters.
Heat rash remedies include OTC creams and sprays. Usually heat rash resolves when the skin is cooled sufficiently. Medical treatment may be necessary if the sweat glands become infected.
Kidney failure can occur from an acute event or a chronic condition or disease. Prerenal kidney failure is caused by blood loss, dehydration, or medication. Some of the renal causes of kidney failure include sepsis, medications, rhabdomyolysis, multiple myeloma, and acute glomerulonephritis.
Post renal causes of kidney failure include bladder obstruction, prostate problems, tumors, or kidney stones.Treatment options included diet, medications, or dialysis.
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Total Hip ReplacementDuring total hip replacement, diseased hip cartilage and bone is replaced with artificial materials. Risks of the surgery include blood clots in the lower extremities, difficulty with urination, infection, bone fracture, scarring, limited range of motion, and prosthesis failure.