Beware of electrolyte imbalance

Mr. X aged 40 had diarrhoea and vomiting after eating out. Though it stopped within few hours, he did not eat anything due to anorexia. Next day he felt so weak that even walking seemed difficult and recovered only after receiving perfusions in the hospital. This occurred due to electrolyte imbalance caused by the diarrhea and vomiting.

Electrolytes are substances that dissociate into ions in any solution and acquire the capability to conduct electricity. They are present in human body as in nature and are very important substances in the body. They help in maintaining the balance of acid and base in the body. Functioning of the heart muscle, other muscles of the body, functioning of nerves, functioning of all cells of the body needs electrolytes. To remain healthy one should have electrolytes in proper balance. Sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium and phosphate, are some of the important electrolytes present in the body.

Electrolyte imbalance occurs when there is deficiency or excess of one or more of these electrolytes in the body.

Many natural products contain vital electrolytes singularly or in combination. Sodium is present in salt. Other natural sources are seaweed, celery, meats, poultry, dairy products and vegetables. Potassium is present in most of the fruits and vegetables. Banana is a rich source of potassium. Dairy products are rich in calcium. Calcium is also present in green leafy vegetables, legumes and nuts. Magnesium is present in whole grains, nuts and green vegetables.

Normally, electrolytes are lost during sweating as while doing heavy physical work or travelling in hot weather. Conditions like diarrhea, vomiting or not eating for long hours, causes electrolyte imbalance in the body.

Major injuries can lead to electrolyte imbalance. Hormonal disturbances in the body due to diseases of the pituitary or adrenal glands result in electrolyte imbalance. Electrolyte disturbances are also caused by metabolic disturbances like very high blood glucose levels.

Diuretic drugs like frusemide which cause loss of water and electrolytes from the body induce electrolyte imbalance over a period of time. Kidneys play a vital role in regulating the electrolyte balance of the body, therefore kidney disorders lead to electrolyte imbalance in the body.

In mild cases, one may feel dryness of mouth and difficulty in speaking. There are muscular cramps in limbs and or muscle twitching. Sometimes athletes develop painful muscle cramps while running. This occurs due to sodium deficiency. Fatigue, depression, loss of appetite and constipation are other features which can occur with electrolyte imbalance. Excess or deficiency of the acidic ions results in increased respiratory rate, breathing trouble, sweating and asthenia.

With advanced electrolyte imbalance, muscles become flaccid and the body becomes listless. Electrolyte imbalance can be fatal if not corrected. Excess of sodium can lead to hypertension, and cardiac problems. Deficiency or excess of potassium can induce disturbances of the heart rhythm and even death

Diagnosis of electrolyte imbalance is made by measurement of levels of electrolytes in the blood.

Treatment consists in giving the relevant electrolyte through perfusions. Minor deficiency can be treated by the tablets or syrups available. In cases of diarrhea, as a first aid measure, one can form a solution at home by mixing water with salt, cooking soda and glucose to prevent electrolyte disturbances. WHO has given guidelines in this regard as to the quantities used. It is said that salt used should be enough to make it taste like tears. Then if necessary, perfusions can be given.

Intake of green vegetables, fresh fruits, milk products and nuts ensures that the body receives adequate amount of all necessary electrolytes and salts. Junk food should be avoided.

It is also important to drink sufficient amount of water because water inside the body helps in keeping the electrolytes in equilibrium.

With electrolytes in equilibrium, one can enjoy good health.