According to MedlinePlus, electrolytes are electrically charged minerals in your body, and they are found in various bodily fluids and tissues and play an important role in healthy function. However, consuming too much electrolytes can have negative effects.
The Body’s Electrolytes
The main electrolytes are sodium, potassium, calcium, chloride, bicarbonate, phosphate and magnesium. You obtain them through the food and drinks you consume every day. The body requires electrolytes to help:
- Balance the amount of water in your body.
- Move nutrients into the cells.
- Move waste out of the cells.
- Balance your body's pH level.
- Ensure that the brain, heart, nerves and muscles all work the way they should.
Electrolytes in the body may become too low or too high, leading to electrolyte poisoning, based on the amount of water in your body. Levels of one electrolyte can also affect the levels of another in the body.
Functions such as sweating during exercise and illness causing vomiting and diarrhea can affect the amount of water in your system and can contribute to electrolyte imbalance. Other things that may cause electrolyte imbalance include kidney disease, severe dehydration, cancer treatment, certain drugs and congestive heart failure.
There are a number of electrolyte drinks that are available on the market today such as Gatorade and Smartwater that are designed to replenish electrolyte loss. If you are replacing electrolytes faster than you are losing them, you may end up with too much electrolytes in your system which can have devastating effects.
Meaning of Too Much Electrolytes
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the amount of food and drink you'll need to consume to achieve and maintain healthy electrolyte levels and balance depends on a number of factors such as age, health condition, pregnancy and breastfeeding status and physical activity level. If you're dehydrated, it's okay to rehydrate with electrolyte drinks. If you're not dehydrated, though, and you drink too much electrolytes, you could make yourself sick by disrupting the balance.
According to the Merck Manual, the electrolyte imbalance you're dealing with is named and diagnosed based on the particular electrolyte level that is too high or too low, and each has its own signs and symptoms though some may overlap.
According to the Mayo Clinic, a normal blood sodium level ranges from 135 to 145 milliequivalents per liter. When you have high concentrations of sodium in your blood, this is a condition known as hypernatremia.
The Mayo Clinic states a normal blood potassium level falls between 3.6 and 5.2 millimoles per liter. If potassium levels are too high, you're dealing with hyperkalemia. According to the American Kidney Fund, those with kidney disease are at a higher risk for developing hyperkalemia because the kidneys filter extra potassium out through the urine and when the kidneys do not function properly, the potassium goes back into the bloodstream.
According to the University of California at Los Angeles, the normal blood calcium range is 8.6 to 10.3 milligrams per deciliter. When blood levels of calcium are too high, you're suffering from hypercalcemia.
MedlinePlus states a typical normal range of chloride in the blood is 96 to 106 milliequivalents per liter, If you have higher than normal levels, you have hyperchloremia.
According to MedlinePlus, bicarbonate is the form of most carbon dioxide (CO2) in the body. Your blood bicarbonate level refers to the amount of CO2 in the liquid part of your blood, known as the serum. The normal range is 23 to 29 milliequivalents per liter. Deviations from the normal range indicate fluid loss or retention.
According to MedlinePlus, children should have anywhere from 4.0 to 7.0 milligrams of phosphate per deciliter of blood for a normal range. The normal adult range is between 2.8 to 4.5 milligrams per deciliter. If you're experiencing high concentrations of phosphate in the blood, that's known as hyperphosphatemia.
MedlinePlus indicates a normal magnesium blood level is 1.7 to 2.2 milligrams per deciliter. If there's too much magnesium in your blood, you'll be diagnosed with hypermagnesemia. According to the Merck Manual, it's uncommon and generally develops in people with kidney failure who are given drugs that contain magnesium.
The normal range for any test in the electrolyte panel may vary slightly depending on the lab. Because of this, you should talk to your doctor about what your specific test results mean. Your doctor may order these tests as part of a basic metabolic panel at your annual physical or if they suspect an underlying health condition.
Signs of Electrolyte Poisoning
The signs of electrolyte poisoning may vary slightly depending on the electrolyte in the body that's too high. Because electrolyte drinks contain more than one electrolyte, it's possible too much of one electrolyte could cause another to become too low.
According to the Merck Manual, patients experiencing hypernatremia are likely to experience thirst, and if the condition worsens may experience confusion, seizures and muscle twitches.
The Merck Manual states that in cases of mild hyperkalemia, there may be no symptoms. Sometimes, people will develop muscle weakness. At its most severe, it can cause abnormal heart rhythms and may lead to the heart stopping.
The Mayo Clinic states that in mild cases of hypercalcemia, patients may not experience symptoms. As the condition becomes more severe, however, symptoms may include excessive thirst, frequent urination and abdominal pain.
Generally, patients dealing with hyperchloremia do not experience symptoms. This is often caused by an underlying metabolic condition. The same can be said when dealing with high levels of bicarbonate in the blood.
According to the Merck Manual, the majority of people with hyperphosphatemia do not experience symptoms. But for those with severe kidney dysfunction, the calcium combines with the phosphate to lower calcium levels to cause muscle spasms, muscle cramps, bone weakness and a number of other issues.
The Merck Manual says that hypermagnesemia may lower blood pressure, impair breathing and cause muscle weakness. In severe cases, it's possible the heart will stop beating.
If you suspect you are suffering from electrolyte poisoning, seek medical help right away. Your doctor will perform blood tests to check electrolyte levels and provide treatment based on what's required to restore balance and healthy levels.
- MedlinePlus: "Fluid and Electrolyte Balance"
- Health.gov: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Appendix 7. Daily Nutritional Goals for Age-Sex Groups Based on Dietary Reference Intakes and Dietary Guidelines Recommendations"
- Merck Manual Consumer Version: "Electrolyte Balance"
- Mayo Clinic: "Hyponatremia"
- Mayo Clinic: "Low Potassium (Hypokalemia)"
- American Kidney Fund: "High Potassium (Hyperkalemia)"
- UCLA Health: "Normal Calcium Levels"
- MedlinePlus: "Chloride Test - Blood"
- MedlinePlus: "CO2 Blood Test"
- MedlinePlus: "Phosphorus Blood Test"
- MedlinePlus: "Magnesium Blood Test"
- Merck Manual Consumer Version: "Hypermagnesemia (High Level of Magnesium in the Blood"
- Merck Manual Consumer Version: "Hypernatremia (High Level of Sodium in the Blood)"
- Merck Manual Consumer Version: "Hyperkalemia (High Level of Potassium in the Blood)"
- Mayo Clinic: "Hypercalcemia"
- Merck Manual Consumer Version: "Hyperphosphatemia (High Level of Phosphate in the Blood)"