Electrolytes work with fluids to maintain health and well-being. They're found in various concentrations, depending on whether they are inside or outside the cells. Electrolytes are crucial for nearly all cellular reactions and functions.
Electrolytes are substances that, when in solution, separate, or dissociate, into electrically charged particles called ions. Some ions are positively charged, others negatively charged.
The main electrolytes in the blood are sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, chloride, phosphate, sulfate, and carbonate. Most commonly problems occur when the level of sodium, potassium, or calcium is abnormal. A low level of potassium is called hypokalemia, and a high level of sodium is called hypernatremia.3
Anions are electrolytes that generate a negative charge; cations are electrolytes that produce a positive charge. An electrical charge makes cells function normally. Electrolytes operate in the extracellular fluid (ECF) compartments and inside the cell intracellular fluid (ICF) compartments.
Individual electrolytes differ in concentration, but electrolyte totals balance to achieve a neutral electrical charge (positive and negative balance each other). This balance is called electroneutrality.
Whenever one electrolyte moves out of the cells, another will takes its place. For example, if potassium is lost from the ICF, some other cation must replace it. Sodium (Na +), the most available cation in the ECF, moves into the cell.2
Electrolytes have different concentrations in both ECF and ICF compartments and have different responsibilities to maintain impulse transportation and cell membrane excitability. In the body, when potassium (K +) is lost from the cells, a person or animal becomes weak and may die of circulatory failure, if potassium is not replaced.2
Potassium is one of the most important electrolytes in the body. An excess or deficiency of potassium can cause serious impairment of body function and even result in death. Potassium is the main electrolyte in the intracellular fluid (ICF) compartment. Serum concentration of potassium is 3.5 to 5.0 mEq/L. Variations from either of these values can produce critical effects. High serum concentration may have an adverse effect on the heart and cause arrhythmia (irregular heart beat).
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Sodium is the main electrolyte in the extracellular fluid (ECF). Its normal concentration is 135 to 145 mEq/L plasma. The main role of sodium is to control the distribution of water throughout the body and maintain a normal fluid balance. The loss of sodium leads to loss of water and dehydration; the gain of sodium leads to fluid retention.
A sodium deficit (hyponatremia) may be present when the blood sodium concentration falls below 135 mEq/L. It is caused by excessive sweating combined with a large intake of water by mouth (salt is lost and fluid increased, thus reducing electrolyte concentration). Hyponatremia can also be caused by adrenal gland insufficiency which causes a large loss of electrolytes.
Signs of sodium deficit include abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and convulsions. Dehydration results from loss of sodium and leads to peripheral circulatory failure. When sodium and water are lost from the blood, the body attempts to replace them by a transfer of sodium and water from the tissue fluid. Eventually water is drawn from the cells and circulation fails.4
Calcium is the electrolyte the blood with concentration of 4.6 to 5.1 mg/dL ionized calcium. Calcium serves several purposes. It plays an important role in formation and function of bones and teeth. As ionized calcium, it is involved in normal clotting of the blood and regulation of neuromuscular irritability. The parathyroid glands control calcium metabolism.
Calcium deficit may occur in patients who have diarrhea or problems in gastrointestinal absorption, extensive infections of tissues below the skin and burns. This deficiency can result in muscle tremor, excessive irritability and even convulsions.4
Most magnesium is found in the ICF and in combination with calcium and phosphorus in bone, muscle, and soft tissue. Blood serum contains approximately 1%. Magnesium plays an important role as a coenzyme, in the metabolism of proteins and carbohydrate, and as a mediator in neuromuscular activity. It is the only cation that is found in higher concentration in cerebrospinal fluid than in ECF.
A serum magnesium level less than 1.0 mEq/L indicates magnesium deficit, which most commonly results from prolonged diuretic therapy or use or certain drugs.
A serum magnesium level more than 5.0 mEq/L indicates hypermagnesemia which is associated with uncontrolled diabetes, kidney failure or ingestion of magnesium antacids.5
Phosphate is the main intracellular anion. It appears as phosphorus in the serum, where the normal value range is 3.0 to 4.5 mg/dL. Phosphorus is critical for normal cell functioning. Most phosphorus is found combined with calcium in bones and teeth. Elevated phosphate level is commonly seen in kidney failure.
Chloride is the major anion in ECF. Chloride function in combination with sodium to maintain water (osmotic) pressure. It also assists in maintaining acid-base balance. The normal serum chloride range is 98 to 106 mmol/L.5
Electrolyte Replacement Formula for Pets
Recommended for dogs and cats suffering from diarrhea, heat stress of physical exhaustion.
Combine 2 cups water, 1 tablespoon unrefined sea salt, 1/4 teaspoon liquid colliodal trace minerals and 1/2 cup raw honey. Use bottled water or boiled chilled water. Let the animal drink freely or, if necessary, use a spoon or eyedropper to feed 1 tablespoon per 5 pound of body weight every 2 to 3 hours.6
- Fluids & electrolytes made incredibly easy. Springhouse
- Body fluids & electrolytes: a programmed presentation. Elizabeth Speakman, Norma Jean Weldy
- The Merck Manual of Health & Aging. Mark H. Beers, Thomas V. Jones
- Principles and practice of intravenous therapy. Sharon Weinstein, Ada Lawrence Plumer
- Foundations of nursing. Lois White
- Natural Remedies for Dogs and Cats. C. J. Puotinen