When dissolved, minerals known as electrolytes have a natural charge. In your body, this charge contributes to regulating not only the chemical processes that keep you active but also the balances between different fluids in and around your cells.
Due to their importance in numerous bodily processes, electrolytes provide doctors with a key diagnostic measure that can be used to indicate various conditions and diseases. Continue reading to learn about electrolyte values, what are the normal electrolyte values, and what different values could indicate. Always remember to talk with your doctor about your test results so they can help you interpret them and choose the best course of treatment for your needs. If you have a blood test scheduled to measure electrolyte imbalance book an appointment today to have this performed from the comfort of your home.
What Do Electrolytes Do?
Electrolytes exist in nearly every cell in your body due to how much of the human body is made of water. Their electrical charge maintains a chemical balance that makes normal bodily functioning possible, even down to the cellular level.
Your body acquires electrolytes from food and drink while healthy kidneys filter extra electrolytes out of your body in the form of urine (sweat also contains excess electrolytes). Gatorade and other sports drinks contain electrolytes in the form of their most common mineral presentations, which is why these drinks help athletes who are sweating and moving restore their energy levels.
What Are the Main Electrolytes?
The mineral elements that make up your body’s usable store of electrolytes can be positively or negatively charged. They are what nutritionists add to supplements, snacks, or sports drinks to help people better regulate their performance due to how essential they are in maintaining the body’s fluid balance.
The key electrolyte elements include:
- Sodium – Sodium is the most prevalent electrolyte and is therefore the most critical to keep in balance. Too much of this positively charged electrolyte can lead to a loss of muscle control or over-stimulated reflexes while not enough can lead to confusion, nausea, and eventually seizures.
- Potassium – Potassium is the electrolyte most critical for healthy heart function. With too much potassium, the muscles in your body (including your heart) can begin to weaken, leading to an irregular heartbeat. Without enough of it, muscles can cramp and lead to excessive thirst and even dizziness as the muscle tissues weaken.
- Magnesium – Magnesium regulates muscles as well as brain function, which can make you lose control of your reflexes (even your breathing) if your levels fall too high or low.
- Calcium – Calcium does more than support your bone health. It’s also a crucial electrolyte for regulating nerve signals. Signs of irregular calcium levels can include confusion, fatigue, loss of muscle control, or even joint pain.
- Phosphate – Phosphate is one of your body’s messengers, taking nutrients from cells to other parts of your body. Lacking phosphate can cause muscle weakness while severe overdoses of phosphate can cause dangerously low levels of calcium due to how your body uses its calcium stores to compensate.
- Chloride – Chloride connects directly to your potassium levels to help your body maintain fluid balances and kidney functions.
- Bicarbonate – Bicarbonate keeps the acid content of your blood (your pH levels) in check. If your blood becomes too acidic or alkaline, you can experience a range of symptoms from fatigue and rapid breathing to confusion and irregular heartbeat.
Normal Electrolyte Values
When testing these electrolytes in a blood sample, the normal values are expressed as a range. For each electrolyte, these values are:
- Sodium: 136-144 mEq/L
- Potassium: 3.7-5.1 mEq/L (serum), 3.5-5 mEq/L (whole blood)
- Magnesium: 1.4-1.9 mEq/L (serum), 3.3-5.34 mEq/L (red blood cells)
- Calcium: 2.16-2.6 mEq/L
- Phosphate: 0.87-1.55 mEq/L
- Chloride: 97-105 mEq/L
- Bicarbonate: 22-30 mEq/L
Note that “mEq/L” stands for “milliequivalents per liter.” It is the most common unit for reporting the results of an electrolyte test.
What Tests Do I Need?
Many tests can assess your electrolyte levels, either with specific measurements or as part of a yearly checkup. As a general idea of the available tests, remember that:
- Basic metabolic panels test for major electrolytes like sodium and potassium.
- Comprehensive metabolic panels also check for calcium, chloride, and bicarbonate.
- An electrolyte panel conducts a broad analysis of major electrolytes.
Additionally, specific tests can be ordered to test any electrolyte using several collection methods. These include:
- Aldosterone blood or urine test
- Carbon dioxide blood test
- Chloride urine test
- Magnesium blood test
- Phosphorus blood or urine test
- Sodium blood or urine test
- Urine concentration test
Electrolytes are significant chemical factors in your body’s ability to regulate major organ functions and maintain fluid balance. Imbalanced levels can be caused by dehydration or poor nutrition, but they can also imply a deeper cause that if left untreated could have a lasting impact on your long-term health. This is why recognizing normal electrolyte levels and being tested for them as part of your yearly exam work can help you stay ahead of potential problems.
Speedy Sticks is a mobile concierge phlebotomy service that provides at-home blood draws and on-site diagnostic/health screenings for businesses and individuals. These include electrolyte panels, which can be performed by one of our specialists. Book an appointment today to complete your exam.
**These are approximations, and experts disagree on some values. Consult your healthcare provider for recommendations suitable for you. It is also important to ensure the levels are given in the same measurements, such as mg/dL, etc.