Electrolytes are not just important for athletes.  Everyone needs them to survive. Electrolytes are substances that conducts electricity when dissolved in water.  Many processes in our body rely on these small electric sparks to do their job.  The different electrolytes interact with each other as well as with other cells in tissue, nerves, and muscles. Specifically they regulate nerve and muscle function, hydrate our body, balance blood acidity and pressure, and help rebuild damaged tissue.  As an example, for a muscle to contract a muscle needs calcium, sodium, and potassium.  If these three electrolytes are imbalanced is can cause muscle weakness or cramping.

The different types of electrolytes include:

  • sodium
  • potassium
  • calcium
  • bicarbonate
  • magnesium
  • chloride
  • phosphate

Electrolytes in the blood can become imbalanced, either too high or too low and can change based on the water levels in our body.  Key electrolytes are lost in sweat, after a bout of diarrhea, or vomiting. The levels of electrolytes needs to be restored.  Your kidney plays a key role in maintaining a balance, if the level of one or more electrolytes is too high the kidney will filter out the excess and other hormones with respond to get thing back into imbalance. If your body is low on a particular electrolyte, your doctor will provide recommendations to replenish what is missing. An imbalance happens when your body’s regulatory system cannot get the levels back into balance.  Symptoms of an electrolyte imbalance include:

  • irregular heartbeat
  • weakness
  • twitching and muscle spasms
  • changes in blood pressure
  • excessive tiredness
  • numbness
  • confusion
  • bone disorders
  • nervous system disorders
  • seizures
  • convulsions

Causes of an imbalance other than sweating, diarrhea, or vomiting include:

  • poor diet
  • sever dehydration
  • disruption of the body’s acid/alkalis balance
  • some drugs such as diuretics
  • bulimia
  • kidney disease
  • age, as the kidneys get older they become less effective at regulating electrolytes

If you are concerned about your electrolytes levels, and what to get them checked there is a test you can do.  Contact your doctor and explain your concern.