6 Symptoms of an Electrolyte Imbalance

  • These minerals — magnesium, sodium, calcium, potassium, chloride, bicarbonate, phosphate — are responsible for maintaining electrolyte balance.
  • Instead of just drinking water and sports drinks, you should also eat your electrolytes.
  • Electrolyte-rich foods include potatoes, spinach, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, avocados, peas, and beans.

According to Robin Foroutan, RD, a nutritionist and New York City-based spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, electrolytes “are essential because they help the body with nerve and muscle function as well as body fluid balance, blood pressure, and blood pH.”

Electrolytes refer to several minerals: calcium, sodium, magnesium, potassium, phosphate, chloride, and bicarbonate. These incorporate in the body’s fluids and become either negatively or positively charged ions.

Having too much or too less of these can lead to an imbalance that manifests in the following symptoms:

1. Fatigue

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Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of a magnesium electrolyte imbalance. According to Foroutan, it’s because magnesium is “a big fatigue fighter.” 

Hypomagnesemia or too little magnesium can be caused by:

  • Prolonged use of diuretics
  • Poor eating habits
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Using acid-reducing pills,
  • Gastrointestinal disorders and diarrhea

According to the National Institutes of Health, women need 320mg of magnesium daily, while men need 420 mg daily.

Foroutan advises eating magnesium-rich foods such as “dark leafy vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds, whole grains, seafood, and poultry.”

2. Dehydration

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Naveet Bal, MD, explains that sodium, which is one of the abundant electrolytes in the body, “is responsible for maintaining the body’s fluid balance.”

When a person is overexposed to heat, does excessive exercise, has fever, diarrhea, or vomiting, it causes the body to raise sodium levels and lose water.

Foroutan says, “Anytime we are severely dehydrated, it can be considered an electrolyte imbalance. Many people will be fine if they drink a little water but if you have been exercising for a while, a sports drink may be appropriate.”

On the other hand, too much sodium in the blood (hypernatremia) can lead to confusion, thirst, altered state of mind, agitation, and in serious cases, seizures and coma.

3. Overhydration

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Hyponatremia or overhydration can also lead to problems.

Foroutan explains, “Hyponatremia is not common, but it can happen if you drink too much water.”

Liver, renal, and heart failure, hypothyroidism, diuretics, antidepressants, diabetes, pneumonia, severe diarrhea, or vomiting can lead to hyponatremia because you compensate for what you lose.

Watch out for these mild to life-threatening symptoms of having too little sodium: headache, nausea and vomiting, confusion, muscle weakness, fatigue, restlessness, seizures, and coma.

Eat whole foods such as sauerkraut, olives, and naturally fermented pickles for your sodium fix.

4. Tingling sensations in the feet and fingers

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Too much calcium (hypercalcemia) can cause tingling of the feet, lips, tongue, and more serious conditions such as seizures and cardiac arrhythmia.

5. Slow or irregular heartbeat

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Potassium, together with sodium, maintain the normal heart function and muscle contractions to maintain a normal heart rate.

When you have low potassium (Hypokalemia) from drinking medications like laxatives and diuretics, or lose fluids through vomiting and diarrhea, you exhibit moderate and severe symptoms like tingling, palpitations, numbness, slow heart rate (bradycardia), muscle weakness, muscular spasms, and in severe cases cardiac arrest. 

Too much potassium on the other hand is hyperkalemia. This can cause paralysis, muscular weakness, and possible life-threatening cardiac dysrhythmias. For mild cases, dietary potassium is restricted. For life-threatening cases, dialysis and potassium-lowering medications are needed.

6. Excessive itchiness and poor circulation

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According to Dr. Bal, “too much phosphorus can lead to severe itchiness and calcification of the blood vessels which can affect your circulatory system and cause kidney stones. On the other hand, too low phosphorus can lead to weak respiratory muscles, cardiac arrhythmia, and even death.”

Eat your electrolytes

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Foroutan says, “Eating for electrolyte balance is similar to eating for overall health and wellness and it is the best way to avoid an electrolyte imbalance.”

Eat these electrolyte-rich foods: spinach, potatoes, sweet potatoes, avocados, mushrooms, beans, and peas.


Source: THE Healthy

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