Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.
Fluids & Electrolytes
I love to drive, yet I'm the first to admit that I take my car for granted. As long as the engine starts when I turn the key, I'm happy. What I ignore is the fact that under the hood there are many fluids and electrical connections that must be maintained and balanced in order for my car to take me from point A to point B.
The human body is a lot like a car in the sense that it has fluids and electrolytes, which are electrically charged minerals, that need to be in balance. Electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus, must be maintained at certain levels for your nerves, muscles and other body processes to function properly. In this lesson, you'll learn about factors that influence fluid and electrolyte balance in the body.
When you're sick, especially if your illness involves vomiting, diarrhea, or a fever, you're at a greater risk for fluid and electrolyte imbalance. These factors cause your body to lose water. If a large amount of water is lost from the body, the result is dehydration.
This would obviously alter the fluid balance of the body, because electrolytes are dissolved in body fluids. It can also alter the electrolyte concentrations. Water can be replenished by drinking, but sometimes when you're feeling ill it can be difficult to drink enough water to replenish what you lost.
Dehydration is also a concern for people who engage in heavy exercise. This risk is accentuated if the activity is performed in a hot environment. For example, if the thermometer reads 90 degrees Fahrenheit and you set out to run 20 miles, you can be certain that you will lose a lot of water and salt (aka sodium) through sweat. This loss will decrease the level of water and electrolytes in your body. To correct this imbalance, you need to rehydrate properly. For instance, if you get home after your 20 mile run and only drink water without replenishing the lost salt, you could end up with hyponatremia, which is a condition in which the level of sodium in the blood is too low. To help recall this term you can remember that the prefix hypo means low and the symbol for sodium on the periodic table is Na, so hyponatremia is literally low Na, or low sodium. This condition will leave you feeling tired and confused, and could escalate into seizures or a coma.
The fluid and electrolyte balance in your body is affected by your diet because the foods and beverages you take in provide water and electrolytes. This explains why people with conditions like anorexia nervosa, which is an eating disorder characterized by self-starvation, or bulimia, which is an eating disorder characterized by self-induced vomiting, can develop an imbalance.
The kidneys are important regulators of fluid and electrolyte balance in the body. Your kidneys have the ability to excrete excess water and electrolytes through the urine. They can also retain water or electrolytes if their levels drop too low. If kidney problems develop due to infection, inflammation, or trauma, the kidneys' ability to maintain fluid and electrolyte balance can be thrown off.
The excretion of water and electrolytes from the kidneys can be altered by certain medications, such as diuretics, which are medications that encourage urination. Diuretics are commonly prescribed for people with hypertension or high blood pressure in the arteries. The increase in urination allows the body to lose water. This loss of water decreases the amount of fluid inside the blood vessels, which in turn lessens the pressure within the arteries. While this can lower your blood pressure, a common side effect of diuretics is fluid and electrolyte imbalance.
Diuretics make you urinate more often by forcing your kidneys to excrete a higher than normal level of sodium. Water is attracted to sodium and therefore, follows the extra sodium out through the urine. And, substances in certain foods, as well as caffeinated and alcoholic beverages, can also act as natural diuretics. While these items are safe to consume in moderation, overconsumption can lead to fluid and electrolyte imbalance.
Let's review. Maintaining the right balance of fluids and electrolytes, which are electrically charged minerals, allows your nerves, muscles, and other body processes to function properly. The proper function can be thrown off by factors related to illness, such as vomiting, diarrhea, or a fever. These factors lead to dehydration, where a large amount of water is lost from the body.
Dehydration is also a concern for people who engage in heavy exercise, particularly in a hot environment. Water and salt are lost through sweat. These lost nutrients must both be replenished. If you only drink water it can result in hyponatremia, which is a condition in which the level of sodium in the blood is too low.
The fluid and electrolyte balance in your body is affected by your diet. People with an eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia, can develop an imbalance. The kidneys are important regulators of fluid and electrolyte balance in the body. Therefore, kidney problems can create balance issues. Diuretics are medications that encourage urination. A common side effect of diuretics is fluid and electrolyte imbalance.
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