Electrolyte Test: Why Do We Need To Test Electrolyte Levels

Electrolytes panel of blood test

Contributed by- DrDhrity Vats 

Have you been constantly complaining of headaches? Or even after getting a dental check up do you have complaints of bad breath? Electrolyte imbalance in the body might be the cause.

What exactly is electrolyte imbalance? Are you wondering the same thing?

Electrolyte imbalance is something which is often missed by your doctor. Infact most of us do not know what electrolyte means.

Electrolytes are salts and minerals such as sodium, potassium, chloride and bicarbonate which are found in the blood. Electrolytes are present in the human body, and the correct balance between the electrolytes in our body is really important for the normal functioning of our cells, organs or you can say for our survival. Electrolytes not only maintain the balance of fluids in the body but also helps in the normal functioning of the body including our heart rhythm, muscle contraction and brain function. Chemically, electrolytes are substances that become ions in solution and acquire the capacity to conduct electricity and biologically they transmit the ions in stimulus. The muscles and neurons are sometimes referred to as the “electric tissues” of the body. They are dependent on the electrolytes for the movement of the fluids inside, outside or between cells.

 

Electrolytes In Our Body

The various types of electrolytes in human body include:

Electrolytes play a major role in the functioning of the body. For example – muscle needs calcium, sodium and potassium to contract. The imbalance of these substances can lead to either muscle weakness or excessive contraction. The heart, muscle and nerve cells rely on electrolytes to carry electrical impulses to other cells which completes the entire action.

 

Symptoms Of Electrolyte Imbalance

Symptoms depend on the type of electrolyte and it’s balance, whether the level of that particular electrolyte is high or low. Imbalance or wrong concentration of electrolytes like magnesium, sodium, potassium or chlorides can have really harmful affects. The most common symptoms of electrolyte imbalance in the body are:

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Weakness
  • Bone disorders
  • Twitching
  • Changes in blood pressure
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Numbness
  • Nervous system disorders
  • Excessive tiredness
  • Convulsions
  • Muscle spasm
  • Headache
  • Lack of urine
  • Loss of appetite
  • Bad breath
  • Dryness of the mouth

 

Having most of these symptoms does not mean that you are suffering from some major disease. But it is a wake up call that something is wrong with the body. If not dealt timely, it can most definitely lead to some kind of disease or long term health problems.

 

Electrolyte Imbalance – Take The Hint 

The imbalance of electrolytes such as sodium, chloride and potassium means that the vital organs are not functioning properly or are working in a slow or sluggish manner, at times they tend to overwork as well. The level of an electrolyte in the blood can become too high or too low, leading to an imbalance. Electrolyte levels can change in relation to water levels in the body as well as other factors. The test is useful in evaluating cases where kidney disease, high blood pressure or heart failure is suspected and in monitoring the effectiveness of the treatment.

 

Causes Of Electrolyte Imbalance

There can be several reasons for an electrolyte imbalance in the body, some of the major are:

  • Kidney disease
  • Not replenishing electrolytes or staying hydrated after exercise
  • Prolonged periods of vomiting or diarrhea
  • Poor diet
  • Severe dehydration
  • An imbalance of the acid-base, or the proportion of acids and alkalis in the body
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Cancer treatment
  • Some drugs such as diuretics
  • Bulimia
  • Age, as the kidneys of older adults become less efficient over time

 

 

What Is The Technique To Check Imbalance Of Electrolyte?

An electrolyte panel is used to screen electrolyte imbalance in the blood and also to measure acid-base balance and kidney function. This test can also monitor the progress of treatment relating to a known imbalance.

The process starts with taking the blood sample from a vein in the arm. Generally, the electrolytes are checked when the patient is admitted in the hospital to check how the patient is reacting to different treatments. Incase you suffer from the above mentioned symptoms do get checked, in most cases the doctor advises for an electrolyte test to check the balance in the body.

 

Can You Test At Home For Electrolyte Imbalance?

A normal hydration test is the most common way of checking electrolyte balance at home. Examining your urine is the easiest method of dehydration testing. As per the thumb rule, the lighter and clearer your urine is the more hydrated you are. If your urine is a dark colored with a strong odor it is an indication that you are dehydrated or have inadequate electrolytes in your body.

Performing a dehydration hand test is really easy as well. You can start with pinching an area of your skin, such as the back the hand ( just lift up the skin and then release). If the skin does not return to it’s normal form instead remains lifted and appears loose,  it can be a sign that you are dehydrated. This is particularly common among the elderly or aged people.

 

The Normal Ranges Of Electrolytes

It is important to know the ranges of electrolytes in order to understand the entire dynamics of electrolytes and the role they play in our survival.

Values are expressed as mmol/L for sodium, potassium and chloride

Normal range Alarming levels
Sodium 135–145 mmol/l less than 120 mmol/l &  greater than 160 135–145 mmol/l
Potassium 3.6–5.4 mmol/l (plasma: 3.6–5.0 mmol/l)  less than 3.0 mmol/l & greater than 6.0 mmol/l
Chloride 98–108 mmol/l
Magnesium 1.8–3.0 mg/dl (1.2–2.0 meq/l or 0.5–1.0 mmol/l)

 

 

Tips To Maintain Electrolyte Balance

When you go for an electrolyte test, some of the values might come altered. There is no need to panic, there are really simple and easy ways of balancing them again like:

  • Drink plenty water
  • Have fiber rich food
  • Include salads in your diet
  • Exercise daily
  • Report to the doctor if you notice anything irregular

 

Check your electrolyte levels
 

 

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