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Fluid and Electrolyte Imbalance

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This article will cover the details of the fluid and electrolyte imbalance in the human body, its causes, types, manifestations, prevention, and treatment.

Written by

Dr. Zeba Jabeen

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Achanta Krishna Swaroop

Published At October 3, 2022
Reviewed AtOctober 20, 2022

What Is Fluid and Electrolyte Imbalance?

Fluid is the main component of the human body. Every cell relies on body fluid for its functions. Fluid imbalance occurs if the amount of fluid intake is less than the amount excreted or vice-versa. Fluid is lost from the body through breathing, sweating, and urinating. Electrolytes are minerals in the body that disintegrate into charged ions when dissolved in water. The electrolytes are found in blood, urine, tissues, and body fluids. Fluids and electrolytes in the body are obtained from the daily diet. Electrolyte balance depends on the body's water balance, and the fluid imbalance in the body also causes an imbalance of electrolytes. The fluid and electrolyte balance are interdependent.

What Causes Fluid and Electrolyte Imbalance in the Body?

Fluid and electrolyte imbalance is caused by loss of fluid from the body in conditions like diarrhea, vomiting, severe blood loss, high fever, chronic kidney diseases, cardiac arrest, endocrine disorders, and post-surgery; due to certain diuretics, antibiotics, corticosteroids, and chemotherapeutic drugs.

Thyroid disorders and chronic kidney disease cause high calcium levels in children, and nutritional ailments cause low calcium levels. Vomiting, diarrhea, sweating, and drugs like diuretics and laxatives give rise to potassium deficiency. Children who are smaller in size and have a fast metabolism are at higher risk for dehydration.

Children's low potassium levels occur due to diabetic ketoacidosis, often seen in diabetic patients. Impaired kidney function brings about a build-up in potassium levels in the body. Adrenal gland dysfunction triggers exceptionally high potassium levels. Children's sodium imbalance occurs due to dehydration, severe perspiration and burns, and kidney disease. In children with a history of systemic disease, fluid and electrolyte imbalances are more common.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Fluid and Electrolyte Imbalance?

The fluid and electrolyte imbalance manifests itself according to the electrolyte lacking in the body, the severity of the condition, and the presence of other health issues. The common signs and symptoms include increased thirst, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, confusion, reduced focus and concentration, increased heart rate, hypotension, increased rate of breathing, dry skin, and mucous membrane, parched tongue, swelling in the extremities and face, decreased urine output, darker color of urine and change in urine concentration. Decreased sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium levels cause arrhythmia, abnormal blood pressure, confusion, irritability, and neural and orthopedic disorders. Increased levels indicate muscle weakness, fatigue, arrhythmia, and abnormal blood pressure. Severe loss of fluid and electrolytes may lead to coma, seizures, acidosis, etc.

In children, the most commonly lost electrolytes and their manifestations are as follows:

  • Calcium: Calcium deficiency leads to abdominal pain, muscle spasms, temporary arrhythmia, weakness, and kidney stones in the long term.

  • Potassium: Abdominal cramps and low blood pressure are caused due to low potassium levels, and high potassium levels produce life-threatening issues in heart rhythm.

  • Sodium: Sodium imbalance among children gives rise to lethargy, confusion, weakness, swelling, seizures, and coma.

What Are the Different Types of Electrolyte Disorders?

The different types of electrolyte disorders as per the imbalanced electrolyte are as follows:

  • Hypernatremia and Hyponatremia: The increased sodium concentration in the body is known as hypernatremia, and the decreased concentration of sodium is called hyponatremia.

  • Hyperkalemia and Hypokalemia: Hyperkalemia has high potassium levels in the body, and hypokalemia has low potassium levels in the body. Hyperkalemia is a highly critical, life-threatening condition.

  • Hyperphosphatemia and Hypophosphatemia: The elevated phosphate levels in the body are called hyperphosphatemia, and depleted levels are known as hypophosphatemia.

  • Hypercalcemia and Hypocalcemia: Excess calcium in the blood is known as hypercalcemia, and calcium deficiency is called hypocalcemia.

  • The calcium and phosphate levels in the body are related to each other.

  • Hyperchloremia and Hypochloremia: The condition denoted by increased chloride concentration in the body is called hyperchloremia, and a decreased chloride concentration is designated as hypochloremia.

  • Hypermagnesemia and Hypomagnesemia: The elevated magnesium levels in the body are called hypermagnesemia, and the depleted levels are known as hypomagnesemia.

How Is Fluid and Electrolyte Imbalance Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of the conditions involving fluid and electrolyte imbalance depends on the underlying disease, and some specific tests are performed. The clinical physical examination of the body, complete blood examination, urinalysis, and kidney function test are common to all the conditions. An ECG (electrocardiogram) or EKG and sometimes reflex tests are also advised.

What Are the Risk Factors for Fluid and Electrolyte Disorders?

Fluid and electrolyte imbalances can occur to anyone, yet some medical conditions act as predisposing factors. They are listed as:

  • Chronic alcoholism.

  • Liver cirrhosis.

  • Chronic kidney diseases.

  • Adrenal insufficiency.

  • Congestive cardiac failure.

  • Thyroid disorders.

  • Severe trauma or burns.

How to Prevent Fluid and Electrolyte Imbalance?

The essential step in preventing fluid and electrolyte imbalance in the body is maintaining proper hydration and adequate intake of electrolytes from food sources. Supplements should be taken in underlying medical cases.

What Are the Treatment Options Available for Fluid and Electrolyte Imbalance?

The treatment protocol hinges on the severity of the condition and the depleting electrolyte in the body. In mild cases, over-the-counter oral rehydration solutions and plenty of liquid intake help treat the disease.

A registered physician should be consulted in moderate to severe cases, and the treatment should be taken only under his guidance. Consultation is necessary for people with underlying medical conditions.

Intravenous fluids are given in severe cases for rehydration, particularly sodium chloride. Specific electrolyte supplements in patients with electrolyte depletion are also administered, like magnesium chloride, potassium chloride, etc.

Oral supplements can also be given in moderate, severe, and chronic cases and with medical histories. Oral medications are given in the form of magnesium oxide, potassium oxide, calcium salts, phosphate binders, etc.

In life-threatening conditions, kidney dialysis is also done to remove toxins from the body, as fluid and electrolyte imbalances occur due to compromised kidney function.

Conclusion:

A balanced diet easily achieves the body's balance of fluid and electrolytes. Mild and moderate cases are treated easily; severe and medically-compromised cases need proper consultation, medication, and supplementation.

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Dr. Achanta Krishna Swaroop
Dr. Achanta Krishna Swaroop

Dentistry

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chronic kidney disease
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