Electrolyte Imbalance Symptoms

Electrolyte Imbalance Symptoms

Electrolyte imbalance symptoms can vary widely as can a prescribed treatment as there are a number of mineral salts in the blood serum involved. Certain electrolyte imbalance symptoms are due to en excess of a particular ionized salt, while a deficiency will sometimes bring on an entirely different set of symptoms.

The minerals most often involved, and their associated ionized salts, are calcium, chloride, phosphate, potassium, magnesium, and sodium. These salts help balance fluid levels in the body, regulate the neuromuscular function, regulate blood pressure, and perhaps most importantly, facilitate the passage of fluid between cells through the process of osmosis.

A condition in which there is a deficiency of a given electrolyte is designated by the prefix hypo-, and an excess of the given salt is designated by the prefix hyper-.

Calcium - Symptoms caused by an excess of calcium in the blood serum, hypercalcemia, vary from constipation, nausea, and vomiting, to depression and confusion, fatigue, and muscle pain. Hypocalcemia symptoms, when there is a deficiency of calcium, include muscle cramps and spasms, dry skin and brittle nails, and occasionally, mood changes.

Chloride - Electrolyte imbalance symptoms associated with chloride salts include weakness, nausea, headaches, and in extreme cases cardiac arrest when the condition is one of hyperchloremia, an excess of chloride. A deficiency of chloride, hypochloremia, has as its symptoms muscle tension, paralysis, breathing problems and mental confusion.

Phosphate - Mild hyperphosphatemia is usually asymptomatic, but when there is are significantly excessive amounts of phosphate in the blood serum, symptoms may include muscle spasms, tingling in the extremities, convulsions, and even cardiac arrest.  Hyperphosphatemia and hypocalcemia often go hand in hand. The usual symptoms of a deficiency on phosphate, hypophosphatemia, include weight loss, muscle weakness and in more severe instances, bone deformities.

Potassium - An excess of potassium is called hyperkalemia, not to be confused with hypercalcemia, and its symptoms are general weakness, muscle and abdominal pain, diarrhea, and occasionally, an irregular heartbeat. The symptoms of hypokalemia, are similar, but are also similar to those resulting from excessive dehydration. A lack of potassium electrolytes can increase the frequency of urination, and cause a general feeling of weakness, leading to paralysis in more extreme cases.

Magnesium - Excessive magnesium levels, hypermagnesemia, is most often associated with end-stage kidney disease, and leads to decreased cardiac and respiratory rates, muscle weakness, and a general diminishing of reflexes. A lack of magnesium, hypomagnesemia, has as its usual symptoms cramping, particularly in the legs and feet, weight loss, and muscle weakness and spasms.


Sodium - Electrolyte imbalance symptoms associated with an excess of sodium in the blood, called hypernatremia, include dry mouth and thirst, urine that is dark-colored and concentrated, irregularity, fatigue, and irritability. A deficiency of sodium, hyponatremia, can cause swelling (edema), muscle weakness, disorientation, slower respiration, and seizures.

Prevention - As is apparent, many of the symptoms are similar, and could be referred to as general electrolyte imbalance symptoms. However, should an excess or deficiency occur, blood tests will be needed to confirm which of the electrolytes are in excess or deficient. Blood is drawn and analyzed in the laboratory to find the amounts of electrolytes present, which should be within specified ranges, usually measured in milligrams per liter. Very often, changing one's diet will be sufficient to correct an imbalance, and drinking sports drinks during exercise and hot weather can also help maintain the proper balance. A healthy diet, coupled with drinking an adequate amount of water is usually enough of a preventive, unless the imbalance is due to disease, which is the usual reason for abnormal levels. An electrolyte imbalance that tips too far in either direction can easily become as serious situation.