Problems With Electrolyte Balance
Many of you may have found this summer particularly with the heat wave that your having trouble staying hydrated. An important part of hydration is electrolyte balance. It is important for runners not only to drink water everyday to stay hydrated, but also including electrolytes into your drinking will keep you from cramping as you are running.
Keep in mind that the level of any electrolyte in the blood can become too high or too low. The main electrolytes in the blood are sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, chloride, phosphate, and carbonate. When you look at the back of any electrolyte drink and make sure you pick a drink that has all of the above electrolytes. Most commonly, problems occur when the level of sodium, potassium, or calcium is abnormal. Often, electrolyte levels change when water levels in the body change. Doctors refer to a low electrolyte level with the prefix "hypo-" and to a high level with the prefix "hyper-." The prefix is combined with the scientific name of the electrolyte. For example, a low level of potassium is called hypokalemia, and a high level of sodium is called hypernatremia.
Hyponatremia: A low sodium level (hyponatremia) may result from not consuming enough sodium in the diet, excreting too much (in sweat or urine), or being overhydrated. The sodium level may decrease when a person drinks a lot of water without consuming enough salt (sodium chloride), typically during hot weather when a person also sweats more. The sodium level may decrease when large amounts of fluids that do not contain enough sodium are given intravenously. Diuretics help the kidneys excrete excess sodium and excess water. However, diuretics may cause the kidneys to excrete more sodium than water, resulting in a low sodium level. A low sodium level (and overhydration) can result when the body produces too much antidiuretic hormone, which signals the kidneys to retain water.
Having a low sodium level can cause confusion, drowsiness, muscle weakness, and seizures. A rapid fall in the sodium level often causes more severe symptoms than a slow fall. A low sodium level is restored to a normal level by gradually and steadily giving sodium and water intravenously.
Hypernatremia: A high sodium level (hypernatremia) is usually caused by dehydration or use of diuretics. (Diuretics may also cause the kidneys to excrete more water than sodium.) Typically, thirst is the first symptom. A person with a high sodium level may become weak and feel sluggish. A very high sodium level can cause confusion, paralysis, coma, and seizures. If the sodium level is slightly high, it can be lowered by drinking fluids. If the sodium level is very high, fluids are given intravenously. Once the body's fluids are replaced, the high level of sodium returns to a normal level.
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