Electrolyte Imbalance & Headaches

Young woman holding glass of water
A woman is drinking water. (Image: Purestock/Purestock/Getty Images)

Minerals in the body that carry electrical charges are called electrolytes. Your urine, blood and other bodily fluids carry electrolytes through your body. When electrolyte levels become imbalanced, you can experience a range of symptoms ranging from headaches and nausea to confusion and dehydration.

Dehydration

When you sweat, cry and urinate, you lose water. When you become dehydrated you lose electrolytes contained in the fluids as well. Initial symptoms of dehydration, which can be life threatening, include dizziness and fatigue. You may run a fever or feel light-headed. Your skin becomes very dry and your heart rate will increase, causing additional pressure in your head. Caught in the early stages, you can refresh the lost electrolytes and relieve your symptoms by drinking a sports drink that contains electrolytes. More serious dehydration may require emergency treatment and intravenous fluids.

Hyponatremia

Sodium is an electrolyte that aids in fluid regulation surrounding your cells. When your sodium levels become too low, you may develop hyponatremia, an electrolyte disturbance that causes cells to swell. In addition to headaches, other symptoms of hyponatremia include muscle weakness, nausea, confusion and loss of appetite. Fatigue and lethargy set in and the condition could lead to seizures or coma.

Vomiting

A condition called cyclic vomiting disease occurs when you go through cycles of vomiting for hours or days at a time without any other apparent symptoms. An infection, stress, allergies or anxiety can set off the episodes, reports the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders. Many people suffering from migraine headaches also experience cyclic vomiting either as a result of the headaches or as a side effect. Consistent vomiting causes a dramatic loss of electrolytes as well as dehydration, tooth decay and esophagus damage. While treatment varies, the most effective treatment is prevention by avoiding the triggers that set off the cycles.

High Blood Pressure

Low dietary intakes of electrolytes such as potassium, magnesium, sodium chloride and calcium may lead to a higher risk of developing high blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association. Fruits and vegetables are the primary source of potassium and magnesium in your diet, and calcium mainly comes from dairy products, although many vegetables also contain significant amounts of calcium. Some of the early predictors of high blood pressure, or hypertension, include headaches, fatigue, vision changes and confusion. Medication to treat migraines also can lead to hypertension, according to Medline Plus. Treatment usually includes blood pressure lowering medication and dietary changes.

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