Electrolyte Imbalance: Symptoms, Treatment, & More


If you’ve ever been involved with sports, then you know that electrolytes can help boost your energy levels and help you perform for longer periods of time. The Gatorade brand has positioned its marketing around the entire idea. But, what exactly are electrolytes? And, what does it mean if you have an imbalance?

What is an electrolyte imbalance?

Electrolytes refer to the chemicals in your bloodstream that regulates important bodily functions. These chemicals include calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium. An electrolyte imbalance occurs when the levels of electrolytes in your body are too high or low. This can be harmful to your health and cause your body to stop functioning properly. In severe cases, electrolyte imbalance can cause a coma, seizures, and cardiac arrest.

Causes of Electrolyte Imbalance

There are many things that can cause your electrolytes to spike or drop. Something as simple as having too much water in your body or becoming dehydrated can lead to an imbalance. That’s why electrolyte imbalance is often caused by:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Not eating enough
  • Excessive sweating
  • Certain medications — like laxatives, diuretics, antibiotics, and corticosteroids
  • Eating disorders
  • Liver or kidney problems
  • Cancer treatment
  • Congestive heart failure

Signs & Symptoms

An electrolyte imbalance may not cause any symptoms — especially in its mild form. And, usually, it goes undetected until it’s discovered during a routine blood test. That’s why it’s so important that you attend annual exams. Once the condition becomes severe, you may notice any number of symptoms — but no two experiences are alike. Common symptoms include:

  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Fast heart rate
  • Fatigue
  • Lethargy
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Muscle cramping
  • Muscle weakness
  • Irritability
  • Confusion
  • Headaches
  • Numbness and tingling

Treatment Options

An electrolyte imbalance is typically discovered by your physician during a routine exam where blood is drawn and tested. But, your treatment options will depend entirely on what symptoms you’re experiencing and what is causing the imbalance. If you’ve been sick with vomiting, diarrhea, and have been sweating heavily, then drinking water or an over-the-counter electrolyte solution (like Pedialyte) can help restore the balance of electrolytes.

But, if your condition is severe, then solutions found in-store may not be enough. For example, if you have an electrolyte imbalance due to a health condition — such as kidney or heart disease — then you’ll need to be monitored by a physician. In some cases, you may be able to correct the imbalance at home, but you’ll still need to go into a clinic for a practitioner to monitor your status.

If you have a severe case of kidney disease, you may need dialysis to correct your electrolyte imbalance. And, if an imbalance is severe, you may need to receive electrolytes through an IV. Your physician will be able to tell what treatment option is best for your imbalance.

If You Need an Annual Exam, Nurse Practitioners of Florida Can Help

At Nurse Practitioners of Florida, we have a dedicated team of certified nurse practitioners who have an unwavering commitment to providing you with care and compassion. When you call any of our locations, you will be greeted by a live person who’s ready to offer acute medical care as well as aesthetic procedures. And, above everything else, you will be treated like family.

If you need assistance, call us or fill out our online contact form.