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Electrolytes

Electrolytes

Electrolytes are minerals in the body that function to help maintain a healthy balance of water and minerals in the body.  Electrolytes also help to keep the system healthy by removing waste from cells so it can be filtered out of the body.  An electrolytes blood test can gauge how well the electrolytes are functioning.  Sodium, potassium, chloride, and bicarbonate are four of the main electrolytes used in the body. 

  • Sodium is most abundant in the blood plasma of the body and is primarily used to control the balance of water in the blood and cells. 
  • Potassium plays an important role in heart functioning and can be found in cells and, in smaller amounts, in blood plasma.  
  • Chloride can be found throughout the body and performs the job of ionizing as it passes through cells so that electrical neutrality is stable.   
  • Bicarbonate is found near the kidneys, where it is produced and reabsorbed.  Bicarbonate is used to balance the pH level of the body. 

An electrolyte deficiency can cause imbalances in the body’s fluids to occur.  This deficiency can be assessed with a blood test for electrolytes. 

Getting Enough Electrolytes

Eating a balanced diet is important in making sure that the appropriate minerals are available in the body.  The minerals can also be found in dietary supplements.  In the United States many of the foods available are rich with the minerals needed to run the body.  For the general population, electrolyte deficiency is not a huge problem.  There are certain activities and characteristics, however, which are at higher risk of an electrolyte deficiency.  During these times individuals need to pay special attention to their diet and how much water they are drinking. 

  • Exercise:  Strenuous exercise usually results in sweating.  The fluids being lost need to be replaced.  Many people do not realize how much they are actually sweating.  In dry or hot weather sweat is more likely to evaporate quickly and be less noticeable.
  • Hot Work Conditions:  Even if one’s work is not strenuous, being outside in heat for the majority of the day is going to cause a lot of perspiration.  Keeping a water bottle close and taking breaks when necessary can help to keep one’s fluids in balance.
  • Medication:  Some medications, such as diuretics, cause an individual to lose a lot of water and electrolytes.  These people need to drink extra fluids and may also benefit from taking a vitamin supplement if they are losing more minerals than they eat.
  • Illness:  Many times the thought of eating and drinking while one is feeling ill does not sound appealing.  It is, however, important.  Not only may the body be losing fluids to vomit and diarrhea, but it is also using extra water and electrolytes to fight off the illness.


Blood Test

A blood test for electrolytes is often ordered as part of a comprehensive health examine.  The test is also used to monitor various illnesses.  An electrolyte imbalance is a symptom of many different medical conditions, and doctors sometimes use an electrolytes blood test to get a basic understanding of a patient’s health.   Knowing that there is a specific mineral that is deficiency can help the doctor to determine where in the body the primary problem is.  Some illnesses such as high blood pressure, kidney disease, heart disease, and liver disease use the blood test regularly to monitor the progression of treatment.    

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