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Electrolytic imbalance: Types, Symptoms And Causes

 An Electrolytic imbalance happens when the levels of electrolytes in the body are either too low or too high. Electrolytes are naturally occurring elements and compounds in our bodies. Their function is to control important physiologic functions. Examples of electrolytes include: sodium; potassium; phosphate; magnesium; chloride and calcium. These substances are present in your urine, bodily fluids and blood. Also, they are ingested with foods, drinks and supplements. It is known that electrolytes need to be maintained in an even balance for the body to function properly because if they are not in balance, the vital body systems can be affected. Severe Electrolytic imbalances can lead to serious problems, like cardiac arrest, seizures and coma.

Electrolytic imbalance


You should know that mild forms of electrolytic imbalance do not cause symptoms. These disorders can go undetected until they are discovered during a routine blood test [1]. Usually, symptoms start to appear once a particular disorder becomes more severe. It is known that not all electrolytic imbalances cause the same symptoms but they share many similar symptoms. The most common symptoms of electrolytic imbalance include numbness and tingling; headaches; confusion; irritability; muscle cramping; muscle weakness; abdominal cramping; diarrhea or constipation; vomiting; nausea; convulsions or seizures; lethargy; fatigue; fast heart rate; irregular heartbeat. You should call your doctor right away if you feel some of the mentioned symptoms and if you suspect that you might have an electrolyte imbalance. If you leave the electrolytic imbalance untreated, then it can become life – threatening condition.


Most often electrolytic imbalance is caused by a loss of bodily fluids through prolonged sweating, diarrhea or vomiting [2]. Also, they can happen due to fluid loss related to burns [3]. There are some cases when electrolytic imbalance can be caused by certain medications. Also, there are some cases when underlying diseases can lead to electrolyte imbalance. The exact cause for electrolyte imbalance can vary depending on the specific type of electrolyte disorder.


Depleted levels of an electrolyte are indicated with the “hypo-“ while the elevated levels of an electrolyte are indicated with the prefix “hyper-“. Some conditions which are caused by electrolytic imbalance include:


hypernatremia and hyponatremia. This mineral is needed for maintaining fluid balance and it is critical for normal body function. Hypernatremia happens when there is too much sodium in the blood and it can happen due to severe dehydration; inadequate water consumption, etc. The hyponatremia is when you have too little sodium and it can happen due to alcohol use disorder; vomiting or diarrhea; excessive fluid loss through the skin from sweating or burns, etc. [4]


hyperkalemia and hypokalemia. This is important electrolyte for regulating heart function. Hypekalemia is when you have high levels of potassium and it can be triggered by kidney failure; severe dehydration; certain medications, including some blood pressure medications and diuretics, etc. The hypokalemia happens when potassium levels are too low and it can happen as a result of dehydration; eating disorders; severe vomiting or diarrhea, etc. [5]


hyperphosphatemia or hypophosphatemia. The intestines, bones and kidneys work to balance phosphate levels in the body. Hyperphosphatemia can happen due to severe muscle injury; chronic kidney disease; excessive use of phosphate – containing laxatives, etc. The hypophosphatemia can be seen in starvation; acute alcohol abuse; Vitamin D deficiency; severe burns, etc.


hypermagnesemia and hypomagnesemia. This is important mineral for controlling nerve function, heart rhythm and muscle contraction. Hypermagnesemia means that you have excess amounts of magnesium and it can be caused by end – stage kidney disease and Addison’s disease. The hypomagnesemia means that you have too little magnesium in your body and it can be caused by excessive sweating; alcohol use disorder; certain medications, including some diuretics and antibiotics; malabsorption, etc. [6]


hyperchloremia and hypochloremia. This electrolyte is important for maintaining the proper balance of bodily fluids. Hyperchloremia happens when there is too much chloride in the body and it can be caused by dialysis, kidney failure and severe dehydration. Hypochloremia happens when there is too little chloride in the body and it can be caused by acute kidney injury; scorpion stings; eating disorder, such as anorexia; cystic fibrosis. [7]


hypercalcemia and hypocalcemia. Calcium is a very important mineral which the body uses to stabilize blood pressure and control skeletal muscle contraction. Hypercalemia is when you have too much calcium in the blood and it can be caused by thyroid disorders; kidney disease; hyperparathyroidism; lung disease, such as tuberculosis or sarcoidosis, etc. The hypocalemia is a lack of adequate calcium in the bloodstream and it can be caused by malabsorption; Vitamin D deficiency; kidney failure, etc.


[1] NHS. Electrolyte test. Retrieved from

[2] Shah GS, Das BK, Kumar S, et al. Acid base and electrolyte disturbance in diarrhoea. Kathmandu University Medical Journal (KUMJ). 2007;5(1):60-2.

[3] Reiss E, Stirman JA, Artz CP, et al. Fluid and electrolyte balance in burns. JAMA. 1953;152(14):1309-13. doi:10.1001/jama.1953.03690140017004

[4] Balci AK, Koksal O, Kose A, et al. General characteristics of patients with electrolyte imbalance admitted to emergency department. World Journal of Emergency Medicine. 2013;4(2):113–6. doi:10.5847/wjem.j.issn.1920-8642.2013.02.005

[5] Kardalas E, Paschou SA, Anagnostis P, et al. Hypokalemia: a clinical update. Endocrine Connections. 2018;7(4):R135–R146.

[6] Sarvazad H, Cahngaripour SH, Eskandari Roozbahani N, Izadi B. Evaluation of electrolyte status of sodium, potassium and magnesium, and fasting blood sugar at the initial admission of individuals with COVID-19 without underlying disease in Golestan Hospital, Kermanshah. New Microbes and New Infections. 2020;38:100807.

[7] Nagami GT. Hyperchloremia – Why and howHipercloremia: por qué y cómo. Nefrología (English Edition). 2016;36(4):347-53.

Neem Mayur
Neem Mayur
Mayur Neem, a certified dietician having more than 5 years of experience in the field of diet practice. He is working as a diet expert and offering services to body builders, sports persons, celebrities, etc. He is lover of natural remedies and loves to spend most of his free time in his organic farm and offers expert advice on organic farming to local farmers. He is available through [email protected]


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