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Dehydration and Electrolyte Imbalance by Jo Aerne

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There is a fine line in having the correct “balance” in terms of our water, salts, minerals, and electrolytes. Whether you have too little fluid or too much water, both situations have consequences, some of which could be fatal.

What is the physiological explanation of all this?

First of all, electrolytes are electronically charged particles. They conduct electric current, help keep our pH in balance, and are involved with how fluids pass in and out of cells. They help regulate the neuromuscular, excretory, and endocrine systems. The main electrolytes are Potassium, Calcium, Sodium, and Magnesium. Chloride, Phosphate and Bicarbonate are others.

On its own, our bodies will try to maintain a state of equilibrium, or “homeostasis”. When it senses not enough fluid coming in, our brains will tell our kidneys to hold onto whatever fluid they can, thus the lack of urination. As a result, our blood gets thicker (viscosity increases), and our heart has to work harder to push blood around our bodies. So our blood pressure increases.

Other symptoms can creep up on you too, such as dizziness, lethargy, and confusion. Thirst is an obvious symptom. However, I’ve been told that once you are thirsty, “it is too late”… meaning you are already mildly dehydrated. As it progresses, you can see sunken eyes, and the skin will not fall back into position, if pinched (You can also detect this in pets). This could mean you have too much sodium or have hypernatremia.

The opposite situation can also happen. You can drink too much water which can deplete your sodium levels. This is known as “Hyponatremia”. This is a very common electrolyte disorder. After excessively perspiring, and drinking too much water (known as “water intoxication”), you will impair your kidneys and adrenal glands. This is even more serious as it can lead to seizures and coma.

If you want. you can calculate how much fluid and electrolytes you need per your body weight. A person of say 130 lbs. would need 25 ounces of water and 2-3 Pedialytes per hour. (Pedialyte and Endurolyte are two alternatives to Gatorade). Another alternative is to drink white grape juice in place of Pedialyte.

Having a handy hydration system in place will encourage you to drink more fluids. Also, pay attention to your body, as it is trying to tell you something. Don’t ignore those “little messages” that say, “I’m thirsty”, or I need to take a break. Once restored to “homeostasis”, our bodies will perform much more efficiently, and enable us to fulfill our goals.


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