Are you having back pain with any of the following?

  • Severe pain, weakness or tingling in your leg(s).
  • Difficulty stopping urination or loss of control of bladder or bowels.
  • Unexplained fever, nausea or vomiting.
  • A history of cancer or unexplained weight loss.

We understand that you are experiencing one or more of the health issues that might be impacting your back pain.

We recommend that you discuss these health issues with your doctor before proceeding with this program.

Once you are cleared by your doctor to do this program, we hope it helps you find relief from your back pain.

Electrolyte Disturbances

Overview

Electrolytes are important minerals stored in very small amounts in the body. Common electrolytes include sodium, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. They are called electrolytes because they carry a very small electrical charge that performs important functions throughout your body. These minerals regulate the amount of water in your body, control muscle action, regulate blood chemistry, and perform other important functions. Electrolytes are found in your blood, cells, tissue, urine, and body fluids.

When the amount of electrolytes in your body is too high or too low, you can develop dizziness, cramps, and problems with an irregular heart beat (heart rhythm) or symptoms of mental confusion.

An electrolyte disturbance can be caused by severe fluid loss (dehydration) through sweating (without replacing fluids) and by certain health conditions, such as kidney problems, diabetes, malnutrition, hormone disorders, and heart disease. It might also occur as a result of treatment for another condition, such as cancer.

It is important to regularly replace fluids if you sweat or are physically active. If your electrolyte disturbance is caused by another health condition, including a high fever, be sure to seek treatment. Without proper treatment, an electrolyte disturbance may become life-threatening.

If you think you might have an electrolyte disturbance or have symptoms of dizziness, nausea, fatigue, or muscle twitching or spasms that continue, call and schedule an appointment.

If your symptoms of a possible electrolyte disturbance are severe, such as mental confusion, seizures, or irregular heart rate, seek emergency medical care.

Symptoms

Generally, electrolyte disturbance symptoms depend on which electrolytes are affected and the severity of the imbalance. Most electrolyte problems involve abnormal levels of sodium, potassium, or calcium.

Typical mild symptoms of an electrolyte disturbance include dizziness and muscles cramps or weakness. You might also experience muscle spasms or twitching, numbness, and fatigue. Some people experience difficulty breathing, dark urination, dry mouth, and irritability. You might also feel nauseated, or have abdominal cramping, vomiting, and swelling from fluid build-up.

More serious symptoms include irregular heartbeat, mental confusion, changes in your blood pressure (either too high or too low), and seizures (convulsions).

Risk Factors

You are at greater risk of developing an electrolyte disturbance if you have other health conditions, such as kidney disease, diabetes, or heart disease. Side effects from certain medications, such as antibiotics and chemotherapy, can also put you at risk for developing an electrolyte disturbance.

People with eating disorders, such as bulimia or anorexia nervosa, may develop electrolyte disturbances. Heavy exercise and using diuretics (water pills) can increase your chances of having an electrolyte imbalance.

Causes

An electrolyte disturbance may result when your body loses too much fluid. For instance, if you experience vomiting, diarrhea, high fever, or excessive sweating, your electrolyte levels may become unbalanced. The disturbance can also result from not eating a healthy diet or having certain stomach disorders that prevent your body from properly absorbing nutrients.

Kidney disease can also cause an electrolyte disturbance. Your kidneys regulate the amount of fluid in your body. If your kidneys aren't working properly, you may develop an electrolyte imbalance.

Certain hormones can also affect the amount of electrolytes in your body. If your hormones are out of balance, it may result in an electrolyte disturbance.

Keep in mind that treatment for other health conditions can also affect the balance of electrolytes. For instance, chemotherapy treatment for cancer, antibiotics used to fight infections, or corticosteroids used to reduce inflammation can all affect the levels of electrolytes in your body.

Diagnosis

We diagnose an electrolyte disturbance based on your physical symptoms and by performing a physical examination. In addition, we'll order blood and urine tests (electrolyte panel) to measure the amount of electrolytes in your body.

If we determine that you are experiencing other associated problems, such as an irregular heartbeat, mental confusion, or high or low blood pressure, we may order additional tests, such as an X-ray or EKG.

Prevention

If you are physically active or outside on a hot day, be sure to drink plenty of fluids. Try to drink plenty of fluids when you have a fever or have vomiting or diarrhe

Be sure that you eat a nutritious, healthy diet and keep hydrated. Not getting enough fluids is one of the leading causes of dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, particularly among the elderly.

You do not need to replace electrolytes with special sports drinks. Drinking water is the best way to replace fluids, unless we specifically recommend that you drink something else.

 

Treatments

Treatment depends on which electrolyte is out of balance and the severity of the disturbance. It also depends on whether you have too much or too little of a certain electrolyte.

If you've lost too much fluid and you have a low balance of an electrolyte, we generally recommend that you drink plenty of fluids and possibly change your diet. For instance, if you have a low potassium level, we may recommend that you eat a diet rich in potassium, such as bananas. Another example is if your sodium level is too low, we may recommend that you reduce the amount of water that you drink.

For more severe electrolyte disturbances, we may need to replace fluids and electrolytes through an intravenous (IV) drip.

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If you have an emergency medical condition, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital. An emergency medical condition is any of the following: (1) a medical condition that manifests itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity (including severe pain) such that you could reasonably expect the absence of immediate medical attention to result in serious jeopardy to your health or body functions or organs; (2) active labor when there isn't enough time for safe transfer to a Plan hospital (or designated hospital) before delivery, or if transfer poses a threat to your (or your unborn child's) health and safety, or (3) a mental disorder that manifests itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity such that either you are an immediate danger to yourself or others, or you are not immediately able to provide for, or use, food, shelter, or clothing, due to the mental disorder.

This information is not intended to diagnose health problems or to take the place of specific medical advice or care you receive from your physician or other health care professional. If you have persistent health problems, or if you have additional questions, please consult with your doctor. If you have questions or need more information about your medication, please speak to your pharmacist. Kaiser Permanente does not endorse the medications or products mentioned. Any trade names listed are for easy identification only.