Signs of Electrolyte Imbalance

By Dr. Ritu Krishnatreye, BHMS

Signs of electrolyte imbalance

Electrolytes are the ionic minerals that conduct electrical charges in the body.

They help in maintaining optimum function of the digestive, nervous, muscular and cardiac systems.

Symptoms and signs of electrolyte imbalance vary according to the cause and the severity of the condition. 

Causes of electrolyte imbalance

Vomiting, diarrhea and excessive sweating can result in electrolyte imbalance and dehydration.

Dehydration is the most common cause of electrolyte imbalance. During dehydration, it is not just water that is lost; valuable electrolytes are lost as well.

If electrolytes are not replaced when re-hydrating, an electrolyte imbalance will likely result, evidenced by various signs and symptoms.

The Major Electrolytes Required For Electrolyte Balance

Sodium, Potassium, Magnesium, Calcium and Chloride are the main minerals that help to maintain electrolyte balance in the body.

These minerals help control heart and nerve functions, as well as muscle control. 

  • Sodium maintains water balance and activates the thirst response

  • Potassium keeps the body hydrated and influences the performance of other minerals

  • Magnesium enables normal muscle contraction and relaxation and prevents muscle fatigue

  • Chlorine helps to maintain water balance and prevent dehydration

  • Calcium helps with muscle contraction

Signs of low potassium

A minor drop in potassium levels may not result in any distinguishable signs or symptoms to show electrolyte imbalance occurring. However, sudden drops in potassium levels can produce the following symptoms.

  1. Muscle cramps. The drop in potassium leads to muscle weakness or cramping. In extreme cases, muscle fibers may also begin to break down and be released into the blood, which can in turn damage the kidneys. Potassium levels lower than 3.5 mEq/L is known as hypokalemia.

  2. Lung paralysis. In extreme scenarios, low levels of potassium can lead to paralysis of the lungs. Abnormal heart rhythms may also occur due to low levels of potassium. This symptom is experienced more often in those with a heart related disease.

  3. Constipation and fatigue. Low potassium levels can cause a person to pass a large amount of urine. Not only will this make the person feel thirsty, but the resulting dehydration may result in constipation. Other symptoms include abdominal cramps, bloating, nausea or vomiting.


Symptoms of low sodium

Just like potassium, small drops in the body’s sodium levels may go undetected.

Surprisingly, chronic low levels of sodium are somewhat likely to remain undetected. It is sudden sharp drops in sodium that may result in:

  • Fatigue

  • Muscle spasm

  • Irritability

  • Nausea

  • Headaches

If not responded to properly, low levels of sodium may cause a person to experience hallucinations, confusion and a reduced level of mental alertness which are severe symptoms of electrolyte imbalance.

In extreme cases it may result in entering into a stupor or coma, caused by a swelling of brain cells.

Symptoms of low magnesium

Hypomagnesemia is a condition which occurs when magnesium levels in the blood drop too low.

This drop may be caused by a deficiency in one’s diet, or may also be due to an inability of the intestines to absorb the mineral.

Common causes of low magnesium include:

  • Alcoholism

  • Chronic diarrhea 

  • A result of taking certain medications, including diuretics

Symptoms of low magnesium levels include:

  • Abnormalities in heart rhythm

  • Muscle cramps

  • Weakness

Low magnesium can effect the nervous system, which can lead to hallucinations, confusion and even seizures.

Symptoms of low calcium

When a person has low calcium levels, it is called hypocalcemia. This condition is usually associated with:

  • A lack of parathyroid hormone

  • An eating disorder

When a person has low calcium levels, it is called hypocalcemia. This condition is usually associated with:

  • A lack of parathyroid hormone

  • An eating disorder

The symptoms and signs of low calcium levels are similar to symptoms of low magnesium levels, and include:

  • Abnormalities in heart rhythm

  • Muscle spasm

  • Fatigue

Tips for Replacing Electrolytes

To replenish the body’s electrolytes, eat foods that are rich in potassium, magnesium and calcium. 


Foods rich in magnesium include almonds, soy beans, bananas, dried figs, brown rice and leafy vegetables.

Taking a daily sea mineral supplement is also an excellent option, as just a teaspoon contains 422 mg. of magnesium, plus 116 mg. potassium, 90 mg. sodium and a whopping 900 mg. chloride.


Foods high in potassium include potatoes, spinach, yogurt, salmon, bananas and apricots.


Milk, yogurt, kidney beans, salmon and dairy products are some of the foods that are high in calcium. Another great source of calcium is sea vegetables.

Getting quick relief

To get immediate relief from mild to moderate symptoms of dehydration, do one of the following:

  • Drink a glass of coconut water

  • Take a ½ to 1 tsp. of sea mineral supplement

Signs of High Levels of Electrolytes in the Body


There are times that electrolyte levels can rise too high, resulting in certain symptoms.

Hyperkalemia, (high potassium levels) can be extremely dangerous. It can be due to a kidney disease or by taking a drug that affects the potassium excretion by the kidneys.

The most important symptom of a high level of potassium is an abnormal heart rhythm, which can be diagnosed by an electrocardiogram.


A high calcium level (hypercalcemia) leads to a loss of appetite, vomiting and nausea.


A high level of sodium can result in increased thirst, weakness and fatigue. Very high sodium levels can cause paralysis, coma, confusion and seizures.

Balancing out high electrolyte levels

To balance out high levels of electrolytes in the body, you should reduce your intake of salts.

This can be done by taking only fluids and avoiding anything high in electrolytes. Sometimes, these fluids are given intravenously for faster results.

Once the bodily fluids are replaced, the high levels of electrolytes will return to normal. However, if the symptoms still persist, consult your physician.

Conclusion, signs of electrolyte imbalance

Symptoms of mild to moderate electrolyte imbalance are different according to the electrolyte.

Electrolyte imbalance may be managed by first identifying the symptoms and then taking the appropriate action, as discussed above.

(Return from Signs of Electrolyte Imbalance to What is an Electrolyte)


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