Electrolytes are minerals that occur naturally in the body and are important for controlling many physiological functions. If there is an electrolyte imbalance in the body, it can prevent the body system from functioning properly, which can lead to serious complications, if left untreated. A kidney doctor can provide the expert care you need if you have an electrolyte imbalance.
What Is An Electrolyte Imbalance?
Electrolytes are important minerals found in the blood, tissues, urine, and other body fluids. They can conduct electrical impulses in the body, allowing it to perform many important functions, including keeping the body hydrated, regulating nerve and muscle function, helping to move nutrients into cells and waste products out of cells, balancing pH (acidity) levels, and helping to rebuild damaged tissue. Examples of electrolytes found in the body, include:
If the level of an electrolyte in your blood becomes too high or too low, it leads to an imbalance, which can affect the normal functioning of the body. The most common imbalances are with potassium and sodium.
Symptoms Of An Electrolyte Imbalance
Not all electrolyte imbalances cause the same symptoms and a minor electrolyte imbalance may not cause any obvious symptoms. If the imbalance becomes more severe, or if there are other health conditions, it may lead to symptoms such as:
- Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
- Fast heart rate
- Rapid, shallow breathing (tachypnea)
- Nausea or vomiting
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Abdominal cramping
- Muscle spasms or weakness
- Numbness and tingling
- Convulsions or seizures
An electrolyte imbalance can lead to serious health complications, including coma and cardiac arrest, if left untreated. You should visit your doctor immediately if you suspect you may have an electrolyte imbalance or if you experience symptoms of an electrolyte disorder.
What Causes An Electrolyte Imbalance?
The kidneys and certain hormones help to regulate the concentration of each electrolyte. Electrolyte levels can fluctuate if the amount of water in your body changes, such as through sweating, having an illness that causes vomiting or diarrhea, or not drinking enough fluids, which can all lead to dehydration and a loss of electrolytes. Sometimes, there may be excess fluid retained in the body, or the kidneys or hormones may not function correctly, preventing the appropriate quantity of electrolytes from being excreted.
An electrolyte imbalance can also be caused by other factors, including a health condition such as kidney disease, a liver problem, heart disease or diabetes, or from certain medications, such as diuretics, those used to treat high blood pressure, and some pain medications.
Diagnosing And Treating An Electrolyte Imbalance
Electrolyte imbalances can be diagnosed through a blood sample. A blood test may also be used to check the function of the kidneys. Sometimes, a urine sample may be required to check the concentration of electrolytes in the urine. If any issues are detected, you may need to see a kidney doctor for further investigation.
If an imbalance is detected, it can be treated in a variety of ways, depending on the cause of the imbalance. Your kidney doctor may recommend the following treatments:
- Dietary and lifestyle changes and other prevention recommendations – such as reducing alcohol intake, drinking more fluids, and eating a healthy balanced diet.
- Oral rehydration therapy – which may include drinking more fluids, oral rehydration drinks, and over-the-counter electrolyte solutions to treat minor deficiencies related to short-term illness (vomiting and diarrhea) or excessive sweating.
- Intravenous (IV) electrolyte replacement therapy – used to help restore electrolyte balance more quickly. It is often used in cases of dehydration.
- Oral medications and supplements on a short- or long-term basis – used to replace depleted electrolytes or to correct long-term mineral abnormalities. This will depend on the cause and type of electrolyte disorder.
Chronic Kidney Disease
Chronic kidney disease and a decline in the function of the kidneys can cause electrolyte imbalances. The condition will require ongoing care by a kidney doctor to monitor and treat the condition effectively.
Kidney disease occurs when the kidneys are damaged and are unable to function properly. Different diseases and conditions can cause damage to the kidneys and affect their ability to filter waste from the blood and to absorb important substances. Common causes and risk factors for kidney disease include diabetes, high blood pressure, and a family history of kidney disease (such as polycystic kidney disease). Other factors can also affect the health and ongoing function of the kidneys, including infections, obstructions (kidney stones or tumors), and autoimmune disorders.
Appropriate treatment can vary, depending on the cause of the kidney disorder, but the earlier kidney disease is detected and treated, the better the chances of slowing its progression, avoiding symptoms, and improving overall quality of life.
To diagnose kidney disease, a kidney specialist will measure the percentage of kidney function using a blood test called glomerular filtration rate (GFR). This assesses the kidney’s ability to filter blood and remove waste. The amount of nitrogen, creatinine (a waste product) in your blood, and protein in your urine are also measured to help determine kidney function.
The main goal of treatment is to treat any underlying conditions, minimize kidney dysfunction, control symptoms, and prevent the progression of the disease as much as possible. Treatment may include dietary and lifestyle changes, medications, and proper management of any underlying medical conditions. In severe cases, kidney dialysis (to take over kidney filtration) or a kidney transplant may be necessary.
If you have kidney disease, a kidney specialist will monitor your electrolyte levels and treat any imbalances as part of your overall care. Your electrolyte levels will be regularly monitored using blood tests and urinalysis to screen for electrolytes in your blood and to measure acid-base balance and kidney function.
Kidney Doctor in Marlborough, MA
If you are experiencing symptoms of an electrolyte imbalance or have concerns about your kidney health, contact Commonwealth Nephrology Associates. Our expert kidney doctors provide high-quality comprehensive care for kidney diseases and associated conditions such as hypertension, kidney stones, and electrolyte disorders.
To learn more about our services or to book a consultation, call our office at (617) 739-2100. Alternatively, you can request an appointment online. We have 7 conveniently located offices to serve you in Marlborough, Norfolk, Natick, South Weymouth, Dorchester, Norwood, and Attleboro, Massachusetts.