When most of us think about electricity, we think about the energy that powers our lights, TVs, and computers (and even some of our cars). But electricity also helps power our bodies, playing an important role in nerve, muscle, and organ function.
Unlike those other devices, however, our body doesn’t need cables and cords to get the electrical energy it needs. Instead, it derives its energy from electrolytes, which are special chemicals that provide an electrical charge when dissolved in water or fluid.
Electrolyte imbalances and disorders can be caused by a variety of underlying issues, including problems with your kidneys. Here’s how the providers at Houston Kidney Specialists Center, with multiple locations in Houston and Cypress, Texas, diagnose and treat electrolyte problems.
Quick facts about electrolytes
Electrolytes might be a new concept to you, but there’s a good chance you’re familiar with them already. Some of the most common electrolytes include:
Ideally, your body needs to achieve and maintain a balance among all these electrolytes in order to support normal nerve function, muscle movement, cell repair, and other essential functions.
Like vitamins, electrolytes are widely available in many of the foods and beverages we consume. For instance, dairy products are obvious sources of calcium, but so are many leafy greens. Bananas, potatoes, beans, and squash are familiar sources of potassium.
Sometimes, you can address a minor imbalance by improving your nutrition. This would mean focusing on healthy, whole foods and avoiding processed foods, which are mainly composed of empty calories. But, at other times, an imbalance can occur that needs a medical solution to correct.
How imbalances happen
Dehydration and excessive sweating are common causes of electrolyte imbalances, which is one reason why it’s important to drink plenty of fluids during strenuous physical activity or when you’re in a hot environment. Interestingly, overhydration can also cause imbalances through excess urination and dilution.
Underlying medical problems, such as thyroid disorders, pancreatitis, liver disease, and certain cancers can also cause electrolyte imbalances, and so can some types of medicines. Kidney disease is another major cause of electrolyte problems, which usually occurs when the filtration system of the kidneys breaks down.
Although the causes of electrolyte disorders can sometimes be serious, the good news is, imbalances can be identified with a simple blood test. We can also use a blood sample to measure kidney function.
Symptoms to look for
Electrolyte imbalances share symptoms that can occur with other medical issues, too, such as colds and the flu. Still, knowing what symptoms to look for and keeping track of those symptoms can help you get treatment as early as possible.
Some of the most common symptoms to look for include:
- Muscle cramps or muscle weakness
- Numbness or tingling
- Rapid heartbeat or other heart rhythm irregularities
- Moodiness or irritability
If you have these symptoms on a chronic or recurrent basis, it’s important to talk with a member of our team, so we can determine if your electrolyte balance might be to blame.
Treating electrolyte imbalances
Some mild imbalances that are due to nutritional deficits might be treated with supplements to augment your natural levels, followed by dietary changes aimed at helping you get the electrolytes you need. More significant imbalances might require a different approach.
Some of the treatments our team uses include:
- Administering electrolytes intravenously
- Oral or IV medicines
- Hemodialysis treatments to balance electrolyte levels in your blood
The treatment we recommend for you will be determined by the results of your blood tests and other tests or lab work, along with a careful review of your medical history and symptoms. If you have an electrolyte balance caused by an underlying medical issue, we may perform routine testing to ensure your electrolytes remain within optimum levels.
Because electrolytes play a role in heart activity and other vital functions, it’s important to address an imbalance quickly. If you think you might have an electrolyte disorder,
call 281-429-8780 or book an appointment online with Houston Kidney Specialists Center today.