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Fluid and Electrolyte Imbalance

Describe what a fluid and electrolyte is.

A fluid and electrolyte imbalance refers to a state when an individual is lacking water or has too much water. Fluid imbalances typically affects the brain, while electrolyte imbalances usually affect the heart. Both can cause headaches, nausea, dizziness, muscle spasms and weakness in addition to other symptoms. Fluid imbalances are caused by a loss of body water or shed cells (Bhat, 2020). Also called water losses, these can be due to a decrease in body fluid, damage to the kidneys or gastrointestinal system, or even a snowball effect in which the loss of fluid causes further dehydration.

Damage to the kidneys and gastrointestinal system can be caused by disease. Losses of fluids may also result from vomiting, diarrhea, sweating and excessive salt intake. Electrolyte imbalances also occur due to loss of fluids, but these are caused by problems with the body’s ability to regulate their chemical levels (Bhat, 2020). Electrolyte imbalances may be caused by conditions such as low levels of potassium in the blood or sodium in the urine and may result if electrolytes are lost from the body through disorders such as diarrhea, vomiting, excessive sweating and renal failure.

Electrolyte imbalance is a medical condition that occurs when the body lacks electrolytes, which are minerals such as potassium (K) and sodium (Na), that maintain fluid balance. The body has a basic fluid balance that keeps it in the right amount of water inside and outside the cells. The brain needs a certain amount of fluids to function, and this can be impacted by low levels of electrolytes in the blood stream. (Bhat, 2020). When a fluid imbalance occurs, it means there is less fluid in the body than it needs. This can lead to dehydration, which can cause more severe health problems. Fluid imbalances are usually caused by dehydration from sickness, fever or insufficient drinking of liquids. These conditions may be due to a diabetic illness or kidney condition.

Electrolyte imbalances can occur when one of the electrolytes is either too high or too low in the blood stream. When the blood stream is too high in sodium, it causes the body to retain water. This is called hyponatremia, which can lead to sodium toxicity (Bhat, 2020). When the blood has too much potassium, it can cause an irregular heartbeat and kidney damage.

Electrolyte imbalance signs and symptoms include heart palpitations and change in blood pressure or heart rate, muscle cramps and tightness, fatigue and weakness, headaches or migraines, nausea, diarrhea or vomiting. Severe electrolyte imbalance can cause numbness or tingling on the body and even muscle cramps or seizures.

Electrolyte imbalances can occur in both children and adults, as well as during pregnancy. Infants may experience fluid imbalances due to low food intake or breast milk. In adults, decreased intake of foods with electrolytes such as watermelon juice could cause electrolyte imbalance (Bhat, 2020). A loss of fluids due to vomiting, diarrhea or excessive sweating can lead to electrolyte imbalances in both adults and children. Electrolyte imbalances in the blood stream can also result if a person is taking certain medications. These medications may be in pill form and may contain potassium, sodium or even lithium.

How Fluid and Electrolyte Imbalance is Important to the Functioning of the Body.

The heart is an amazing muscle! It can beat over 100,000 times a day and pump over 4,000 liters of blood per day. When the heart works effectively, it is essential to how we function as well as our overall health (Kear, 2017). A fluid and electrolyte imbalance can cause problems in the function of the heart which may lead to cardiovascular issues or even sudden cardiac arrest.

As the heart is a muscle, it needs more than just oxygen and nutrients to function properly. It also needs to have a rich supply of electrolytes and fluid that provide the muscle the proper fluid environment that allows it to work efficiently. The muscle needs potassium, sodium, and chloride ions to function properly.

Potassium is found inside the muscle cells. This ion is important in the prevention of arrhythmias, meaning that it helps to prevent an abnormal heart rhythm from occurring. Without enough potassium in the body, there will be a reduction in electrical impulses and this can lead to an altered heartbeat called bradycardia which is when the heart rate is slow.

Sodium is found inside the muscle cells in a solution, which helps to prevent them from swelling up. It also prevents a reduction of sodium and potassium in the body which can lead to a decrease of cardiac output or heart failure.

Chloride ions are responsible for regulating how much water the muscle cells can excrete and it also helps to balance hydration between all parts of the body.

Electrolytes keep the heart cells functioning properly and allow them to contract properly. Without proper fluid and electrolyte levels in the body, the heart can function poorly (Kear, 2017). Fluid and electrolyte imbalances can cause the heart to contract abnormally and lead to problems such as decreased blood pressure or electrical problems with the heart itself.


Bhat, A. W., & Bhat, B. W. (2020). Prevalence of patient load with electrolyte abnormalities presenting to emergency department at a tertiary care hospital. Int J Health Sci, 19-23.

Kear, T. M. (2017). Fluid and Electrolyte Management Across the Age Continuum. Nephrology Nursing Journal44(6).

Last Updated on April 25, 2023

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