Electrolyte Disorder

Comprehensive Guide to Electrolyte Disorder

Electrolytes such as sodium and magnesium fulfill important functions in the body’s own cells. An electrolyte disorder is when the electrolytes found in a blood analysis are increased or decreased. The consequences can vary depending on the exact disorder, as can treatment and treatment prospects.

What is an electrolyte disorder?

According to AVIATIONOPEDIA.COM, the electrolytes present in the body are bicarbonate, calcium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, sodium, and phosphate. The normal level of the individual electrolytes is different. For example, sodium is balanced to around 100g in a person of normal weight and around 25g magnesium is found in a healthy person. Calcium, which is responsible for building bones and teeth and is an important component of these, is represented at around 1.1kg in the human body.

The name of the present electrolyte disorder is as follows: The name begins with the prefix Hyper or Hypo as a definition of the elevated or lowered level. In the root of the word there is the name of the electryolyte, the term ending is always -emia, i.e. blood. -Emia is attached because the diagnosis of the disorder is made through a blood analysis, but the disease always shows up throughout the body.

Examples of the correct designation are thus hypernatremia and hyponatremia and hypercalcemia or hypocalcemia, the most common electrolyte disorders.


The causes of an electrolyte deficiency are different, however, if the amount is too small, it can initially be assumed that the corresponding electrolyte is insufficiently absorbed. The reasons for this can be a wrong or one-sided diet, a manifest eating disorder and the insufficient fulfillment of a need increased by stress, sport or pregnancy.

Other possible causes are chronic bowel disease, alcohol and drug consumption that confuse electrolyte metabolism, kidney and metabolic diseases. Cancer diseases are rarely found to be the cause.

The causes of an oversupply of electrolytes are also diverse and depend on the specific electrolyte disorder. The underlying reason is always a disturbed metabolism of the electrolyte in question, as can occur, for example, with tumors, familial predisposition, organ damage or an overdose of the electrolyte. Establishing the exact cause is important in order to initiate adequate therapy.

Symptoms, ailments & signs

An electrolyte disorder always has a negative impact on the health of the person concerned and can lead to various complaints and complications. As a rule, however, the symptoms and complaints are very much dependent on the exact deficiency symptoms, so that no general prediction can be made here. However, those affected often suffer from sensitivity disorders or paralysis.

This can also cause pain and cramps in the muscles and make everyday life much more difficult for the person concerned. There is also twitching in the muscles and often increased irritability of the patient. The electrolyte disturbance can also lead to general weakness and fatigue, so that those affected appear exhausted and no longer actively participate in everyday life.

Furthermore, the patient’s heart can also suffer from these complaints, so that disturbances of the heart rhythm occur, which in the worst case can also lead to the patient’s death. In some cases, the electrolyte disturbance also has a negative effect on sensory perception, so that it comes to disturbances in smell or taste. This also significantly limits the patient’s quality of life.

Diagnosis & course

The diagnosis of an electrolyte disorder first requires a detailed medical history, in which the patient and the treating physician discuss the symptoms. The symptoms described in the case of an undersupply are clear and give the doctor important information about the presence of an electrolyte disorder. It can be problematic that diffuse symptoms occur in the event of oversupply, including poor performance, fatigue and rapid physical exhaustion.

In order to verify the suspected electrolyte disorder, specifically name the disorder and initiate adequate treatment, the doctor must take a blood sample. In the laboratory, with a simple blood sample, all electrolyte levels can be determined and compared with the level defined as the norm. The magnesium level should, for example, be 0.7 to 1 mmol / l, the calcium level 2 to 2.8 mmol / l and the sodium level 130 to 150 mmol / l.

A mild form of the electrolyte disturbance is harmless, however, in the course of the disease, severe symptoms, edema and, if left untreated, death can result.

When should you go to the doctor?

In most cases, an electrolyte disorder is not something that requires urgent treatment. It is often symptom-free, especially in the case of a slight deficiency, and is only discovered through an incidental finding. Harmless cases can often be treated with a balanced diet or the temporary use of over-the-counter food supplements from pharmacies, drugstores or health food stores without a doctor’s visit being necessary.

However, there are cases when medical advice is important. If, for example, a deficiency in potassium leads to cardiac arrhythmias, the doctor must record the current potassium level in order to ensure a need-based substitution. This is necessary because an overdose of potassium can be dangerous for the patient.

A visit to the doctor is also often helpful in the case of iron deficiency, for example to find out a cause that requires gynecological treatment or a bleeding in the stomach or intestine as the reason and to treat it. Checking the iron level or any necessary infusions are only possible with a doctor.

Chronic diarrhea or other intestinal problems are often the cause of an electrolyte disorder. The doctor will help here too. Because basically it is better to treat the cause than to take magnesium or other minerals again and again to treat symptoms. In this context, it is also important that older people and pregnant patients, due to their special life situation, better consult their doctor before consuming electrolytes on their own.

Treatment & Therapy

The treatment of the electrolyte disorder naturally depends on the one hand on the specific disorder and on the other hand on the severity and cause. If you have a slight electrolyte disorder, changing your diet and, if necessary, taking chemical electrolytes over a certain period of time are the right choices. In contrast, the underlying diseases that cause them must primarily be treated in order to be able to regulate the undersupply or oversupply over the long term.

In the following, the therapeutic options for sodium and calcium disorders are presented as examples. The treatment of choice for hypernatremia is oral or intravenous increases in fluid intake under controlled conditions.

Hyponatremia, on the other hand, is treated with slow and controlled dehydration and / or increased intake of salt via food or infusions. In long-term treatment, vitamin D is administered to support hypocalcemia. Symptomatic treatment can help alleviate the acute symptoms.

Outlook & forecast

With a slight electrolyte disturbance, the prognosis is usually good. An existing deficiency or oversupply of electrolytes can easily be compensated for by changing your diet. Medical treatment is not absolutely necessary for these patients. If the food intake is consistently adhered to, the symptoms will be alleviated after a few days.

If the change in food is not enough, an artificial supply of electrolytes can help if a deficiency symptom has been identified. These can easily be purchased in pharmacies and used regularly. In most cases, symptoms are eliminated within a short period of time. Regular checks should then take place, as the electrolyte disturbance can recur at any time.

Medical treatment is necessary if the electrolyte disorder is severe. Many of the patients have an underlying disease that needs to be diagnosed and treated. The electrolyte imbalance in these patients is a symptom of another disease. The prognosis of the underlying disease must be assessed individually.

If the cause is cured, the electrolyte disturbance disappears at the same time. This makes a full recovery in these patients. If the underlying disease is not curable, long-term therapy must be expected. Without medical care, the patient with a severe lack of electrolytes threatens to die prematurely.


The electrolyte disturbance caused by diseases cannot be counteracted. In contrast, the prevention of nutrition-related undersupply or oversupply is possible with a balanced diet.


In the event of an electrolyte disorder, the options for follow-up care are very limited in most cases. First and foremost, a comprehensive examination and subsequent treatment must be carried out in order to prevent further complications. The earlier the electrolyte disorder is detected, the better the further course of this disease will usually be.

In most cases, the electrolyte disorder must be treated first for the underlying disease. For this reason, aftercare is mainly focused on preventing the underlying disease from recurring. In many cases, those affected are also dependent on the intake of medication and other drugs or vitamins in order to completely alleviate the symptoms of the electrolyte disturbance.

When taking medication, the person concerned should always ensure that the medication is taken regularly and correctly in order to completely alleviate the symptoms. Furthermore, the support and help from friends and family can be very helpful with the electrolyte disorder and support those affected in their everyday lives.

Changing your diet can also be very helpful and help improve your symptoms. In many cases it is also worth making contact with other sufferers of this disease, as this can lead to an exchange of information.

You can do that yourself

Electrolyte disorders mean that there is too little or too much of a particular electrolyte or electrolytes in the body. The disordered electrolyte balance can be due to a metabolic disorder, an unusually high consumption, for example in the case of severe fluid loss and persistent stressful situations, or a very unbalanced diet. As a rule, there is a relative deficiency in a certain electrolyte, which manifests itself through unspecific, but also through specific symptoms.

Self-help measures consist in ensuring that the corresponding electrolyte is compensated for in the event of an electrolyte deficiency. For example, it is a matter of recognizing from the outset situations with increased electrolyte consumption or an increased excretion rate due to continuous physical activity at high outside temperatures and providing a prophylactic balance of fluids including electrolytes.

Since the concentration of individual electrolytes cannot be checked everywhere during everyday life, it is helpful to pay attention to specific symptoms. Calcium deficiency manifests itself through cramps, sensory disturbances and increased irritability.

Muscle cramps, cardiac arrhythmias and weakness are typical of a potassium deficiency. Excessive sweating, as well as cramps and muscle twitching, are typically indicative of magnesium deficiency, and zinc deficiency can cause smell and taste disorders, as well as acne and nail discoloration.

If there are deficiencies in a certain electrolyte despite a normal diet and for no other apparent reason, the causes should be explored in order to be able to treat them in a targeted manner.

Electrolyte Disorder

About the author