Understand your Electrolytes Blood Test Results…

This page helps you to understand blood test results for Electrolytes and gives you the reference range to determine if your lab test results mean that you have high, low or normal Electrolytes levels. 

We outline the risk factors associated with both raised and lower Electrolytes levels.

Please sign up to see Reference Ranges for Electrolytes (Magnesium / Calcium / Potassium / Sodium / Chloride) :

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What are Electrolytes

Electrolytes are minerals in your body that have an electric charge. They are in your blood, urine and body fluids. Maintaining the right balance of electrolytes helps your body’s blood chemistry, muscle action and other processes. Sodium, calcium, potassium, chlorine, phosphate and magnesium are all electrolytes. You get them from the foods you eat and the fluids you drink [108].

Levels of electrolytes in your body can become too low or too high. That can happen when the amount of water in your body changes, causing dehydration or over-hydration. Causes include some medicines, vomiting, diarrhea, sweating or kidney problems. Problems most often occur with levels of sodium and potassium [108].

Potassium – Your body needs potassium to build muscle, maintain normal body growth, to control the electrical activity of the heart and to control the acid-base balance in the body. Potassium helps move nutrients into cells and waste products out of cells. A diet rich in potassium helps to offset some of sodium’s harmful effects on blood pressure [109].

Sources of potassium in the diet include leafy greens, such as spinach and collards, root vegetables, such as carrots and potatoes and citrus fruits, such as oranges and grapefruit [109].

Sodium – Your body needs some sodium to help with the function of nerves and muscles. It also helps to keep the right balance of fluids in your body. Your kidneys control how much sodium is in your body. If you have too much and your kidneys can’t get rid it, sodium builds up in your blood. This can lead to high blood pressure. High blood pressure can lead to other health problems [110].

Chloride – Your body needs some chloride to keep the proper balance of body fluids. It is an essential part of digestive juices. Chloride is found in table salt or sea salt as sodium chloride. It is also found in many vegetables. Foods with higher amounts of chloride include seaweed, rye, tomatoes, lettuce, celery, and olives.

Too little chloride in the body can occur when your body loses a lot of fluids. This may be due to heavy sweating, vomiting, or diarrhea. Medicines such as diuretics can also cause low chloride levels. Too much chloride can increase your blood pressure and cause a buildup of fluid in people with congestive heart disease, cirrhosis, or kidney disease

CO2 – In the body, most of the CO2 is in the form of a substance called bicarbonate (HCO3-). Therefore, the CO2 blood test is really a measure of your blood bicarbonate level. Changes in your CO2 level may suggest that you are losing or retaining fluid. This may cause an imbalance in your body’s electrolytes.  CO2 levels in the blood are affected by kidney and lung function. The kidneys help maintain the normal bicarbonate levels [111].


See standalone pages for Magnesium and Calcium

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Function of Electrolytes

Electrolytes are critical in allowing cells to generate energy, maintain the stability of their walls, and to function in general. They generate electricity, contract muscles, move water and fluids within the body, and participate in myriad other activities [112].

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Risk factors associated with Electrolytes

If we do not consume the necessary levels of electrolytes there can be health consequences. The most common imbalances are hypernatremia and hyponatremia (too much or too little sodium), and hyperkalemia and hypokalemia, (excessive and insufficient levels of potassium) [113].

An electrolyte imbalance can be manifested in several ways. The symptoms will depend on which electrolyte is out of balance, and whether that level is too high or too low.

An imbalance may produce one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Weakness
  • Bone disorders
  • Twitching
  • Blood pressure changes [113]
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Notable variations by demographic group

As older people are more susceptible to dehydration and over-hydration, they are also more prone to abnormal electrolyte levels. This is because our kidneys do not work as efficiently as we move into old age.

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Diet to improve Electrolytes

Electrolyte levels are kept constant by our kidneys and several hormones. When we exercise we sweat and lose electrolytes, mainly sodium and potassium. To maintain constant electrolyte concentrations in our body fluids, these electrolytes must be replaced. Fresh fruits and vegetables are good sources of sodium and potassium and replace lost electrolytes.

It is also important to stay well hydrated in order to maintain the electrolyte balance in the body [113].

Limiting salt intake is a particularly important issue today, with the national kidney foundation in the US estimating that on average people are consuming 50% more than the recommended daily amount. They advise limiting salt intake to one teaspoon per day [114].

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Supplements for Electrolytes

Sports drinks are often sold on the basis that they can restore the body’s electrolyte balance during and after exercise. These drinks can be high in sugar, but there are sugar free electrolyte supplements which come in concentrated forms and can be added to water in order to restore electrolyte balance without taking on unnecessary sugar.

The individual electrolyte minerals are also widely available in supplement forms if someone wants to correct a deficiency in one mineral specifically.

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Exercise to improve Electrolytes

It is particularly important to stay hydrated during exercise as you will lose water and electrolytes from the body as you sweat. Try to drink something every 15 to 20 minutes, if possible: Since that’s not possible in all sports, you may want to drink more before you exercise, so you have enough in your body [115].

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Sleep for Electrolytes

In magnesium deficiency, chronic insomnia is one of the main, central symptoms. Sleep is usually agitated with frequent night-time awakenings. On the other hand, a high magnesium, low aluminium diet has been found to be associated with deeper, less interrupted sleep [105].

Calcium had also been shown to be related to our sleep cycles with depletion of calcium being associated with reduced REM sleep [105].