Electrolytes are certain nutrients (or chemicals) present in your body that have many important functions such as enabling your muscles to contract so you can move or regulating your heartbeat.
The major electrolytes found within the body include calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, phosphate and chloride. Because these crucial nutrients help stimulate nerves throughout the body and balance fluid levels, an electrolyte imbalance can cause a variety of serious negative symptoms, including some that are potentially deadly.
You obtain electrolytes through eating different foods and drinking certain fluids, while you lose them partially through exercise, sweating, going to the bathroom and urinating. This is why a poor diet, too little or too much exercise, and being sick are some possible causes for an electrolyte imbalance.
Some of the major roles that electrolytes have within the body include:
- Calcium: helping with muscle contractions, nerve signaling, blood clotting, cell division, and forming/maintaining bones and teeth
- Potassium: helping keep blood pressure levels stable, regulating heart contractions, helping with muscle functions
- Magnesium: needed for muscle contractions, proper heart rhythms, nerve functioning, bone-building and strength,reducing anxiety, digestion, and keeping a stable protein-fluid balance
- Sodium: helps maintain fluid balance, needed for muscle contractions, and helps with nerve signaling
- Chloride: maintains fluid balance
The electrolyte imbalance may be a result of numerous things, such as:
- Unhealthy diet
- Improper absorption of food nutrients, which is due to digestive or intestinal problems
- Chemotherapy treatments (this treatment may lead to calcium deficiency, disruption in potassium levels, and other electrolyte deficiencies);
- Antibiotics use(medications, diuretics and corticosteroid hormones);
- Kidney damage or disease (kidneys remove sodium, magnesium, and potassium, and regulate chloride in the blood);
- Sickness (especially manifested by symptoms such as diarrhea, sweating, vomiting, or high fevers which may lead to dehydration and fluid loss).
- Other medications (drugs used in the treatment of heart diseases, cancer, hormonal disorders);
- Endocrine disorders or hormonal imbalance;
These are the most common symptoms of electrolyte imbalance:
- Muscle aches, spasms, twitches, and weakness;
- Fluctuations in weight and appetite;
- Joint pain and numbness;
- Irregular heartbeats or heart palpitations;
- Irregular blood pressure;
- Bones problems;
- Frequent headaches;
- Dizziness, especially when standing up suddenly;
- Cramps, constipation, or diarrhea;
- Fatigue (chronic fatigue symptom)
- Difficulties concentrating and an overall confusion;
If you commonly experience the symptoms listed above, you should seek medical help and do some tests to estimate the electrolyte levels, as well as blood and urine tests and EKG test to find the cause of such irregularities.
If you need to check for severe deficiencies, you may need to do ultrasounds and X-rays on the kidneys. Electrolyte deficiency is diagnosed if the values are lower or higher than normal, and are measured per liter of blood:
- Potassium: 5-5.3 mEq/L
- Calcium: 5-5.5 mEq/L
- Sodium: 136-145 mEq/L
- Chloride: 97-107 mEq/L
- Magnesium: 1.5-2.5 mEq/L
Confusion, dizziness, and irritability – Your body may become weak and dizzy in the case of very high sodium amount, and if left untreated, you may experience seizures, delirious states, and even fall into a coma.
Anxiety and trouble sleeping – Reduced magnesium levels may lead to tiredness, difficulties to fall asleep, night sweats, muscle spasms, and increased heartbeats.
Digestive problems – irregular electrolyte levels, either low or high may lead to various digestive issues such as constipation, diarrhea, cramps, and hemorrhoids
Heartbeat changes– In the case of too high potassium levels, you may develop hyperkalemia, which interferes with the normal signals from nerves and muscles, and leads to tingly, weak, or numb muscles.
This condition will also affect the heartbeat, causing anxiety, while high calcium levels influence the cardiovascular system and electrical transmission pathways of the heart, leading to changed heartbeat.
Bone pain – In the case of too high calcium levels, you may suffer from vomiting, bone fractures, painful kidney stones, and constipation, as well as weakness and concentration problems.
Muscle spasms – In the case of dehydration and low magnesium and potassium levels, you will suffer from spasms and muscle weakness.
Treatment of electrolyte imbalance
Drink enough water – The balance of the electrolytes changes with the change of the amount of water in the body, so drink plenty of water to maintain the proper levels.
Adjust the diet– Initially, check how progressed is the imbalance, and then adjust the diet. Start consuming more home-cooked meals, and avoid processed, fried foods.
Furthermore, eat more leafy greens, sweet potatoes, cruciferous vegetables, cabbage, avocados, squash, bananas, and broccoli. Also, make sure you regularly consume coconut water, celery, cucumber, pineapple, watermelon, amasai, citrus fruits, carrots, kefir, yogurt, kiwi, bell peppers, in order to avoid dehydration.
In the case of reduced calcium levels, eat more legumes, leafy greens, high- quality dairy products (raw milk, probiotic yogurt, cultured raw cheese), vegetables, and beans.
Check your medications –The levels of electrolytes in the body may be affected by certain medications, such as diuretics, antibiotics, cancer treatments, hormonal pills, and blood pressure medications.
Chemotherapy has the strongest impact. Diuretics and laxatives cause a change in the levels of sodium and potassium in the blood and urine.
Some diuretics maintain the potassium levels very high, while others keep the electrolytes very low, leading to digestive issues, trouble sleeping, anxiety, and fast heartbeats.
Electrolyte imbalances may also be caused by hormonal interactions from anti-diuretic hormone medications, aldosterone and thyroid hormones.
Monitor your sodium intake– When you consume processed and packaged foods, always look for the amount of sodium added, as they usually contain it in high amounts.
Sodium controls the water release and retention, so in the case of a very high content, it may lead to kidney issues and an imbalance in the other electrolytes.
If you maintain its levels normal, you will prevent muscle twitching, dehydration, bloating, lethargy, weakness, and irritability.