Essential minerals, the non-organic substances your body requires, support normal body functions and some of them function as electrolytes. These essential minerals, also called elements, possess either a positive charge, called a cation, or a negative charge, known as an anion. Your body not only needs each element, but also needs them to remain balanced so that the number of positive particles equals the number of negative particles. An electrolyte imbalance affects your body and can lead to life-threatening cardiovascular conditions including hypertension.
The main electrolytes include calcium, potassium, sodium, magnesium, phosphorus and chlorine. The term "electrolyte" describes an element that carries electrical impulses between nerves, muscles and organs. Electrolytes also balance the amount of fluid inside of cells and surrounding cells throughout the body. These functions give electrolytes a vital role in muscle contraction and heart function. Heart muscle cells depend on a balance between calcium and magnesium to keep beating rhythmically. Sodium and potassium must remain balanced to maintain your blood volume, which keeps your blood pressure healthy.
Cause of Imbalance
Many factors affect your electrolyte level and can cause an electrolyte imbalance. The most common cause of an electrolyte imbalance is a loss of fluids due to diarrhea, vomiting or excessive sweating. When your body becomes dehydrated, it affects the level of electrolytes, leading to an imbalance. Your kidneys play a major role in maintaining electrolyte balance by removing excess fluid and minerals from your body. A loss of kidney function, such as during chronic kidney disease, inhibits this function and can cause an electrolyte imbalance. An electrolyte imbalance can affect heart rhythm and blood pressure and can lead to hypertension.
Hypertension describes a medical condition characterized by consistent high blood pressure. Blood pressure, the measure of the force of blood against the walls of the blood vessels, allows you to monitor the health of your heart and cardiovascular system. Doctors diagnose hypertension in patients with a systolic blood pressure of 140 mm Hg or greater or a diastolic blood pressure of 90 mm Hg or greater. As blood pressure increases, it causes damage to the walls of the arteries, allows cholesterol to buildup into plaque and adds strain to the heart.
Not all patients with hypertension experience any signs or symptoms, which is why hypertension is known as the silent killer. Some patients experience dull headaches, dizziness and nosebleeds. Conditions of electrolyte imbalance can cause similar symptoms. Dehydration causes headache, dizziness, dry mouth and extreme thirst. Hypercalcemia, an electrolyte imbalance of too much calcium in the blood, causes weakness, fatigue and confusion. Hyperkalemia, too much potassium, and hypokalemia, too little potassium, both cause weakness, fatigue and heart arrhythmia.
- "Modern Medicine"; Restoring Electrolyte Balance; Sonia Astle, CCRN, CCNS; May 2005
- The Hormone Foundation: Hypercalcemia; July 2009
- National Heart Lung and Blood Institute: High Blood Pressure; April 2011
- MedlinePlus: Fluid and Electrolyte; May 2011
- Mayoclinic.com: Dehydration; January 2011
- Mayoclinic.com: High Blood Pressure; March 2011