How to Test for Electrolyte Imbalances

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How to Test for Electrolyte Imbalances
Test for Electrolyte Imbalances

Electrolytes are elements like potassium, calcium and sodium present in the foods we eat. These elements are used to regulate the flow of fluids in the bloodstream, and they aid in the function of muscles, nerves and organs like the heart, kidneys and brain. Many people test for electrolyte imbalances if they experience prolonged symptoms like dry mouth, dizziness, fatigue, swelling of the limbs and increased urination.

Skill level:
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  1. 1

    Visit your doctor. Many doctors give electrolyte imbalance screen tests as part of a regular check-up. Report any unusual symptoms to your doctor--especially if you're experiencing swelling, irregular heartbeat, muscle weakness or chronic dry mouth. Tell your doctor if you're experiencing any side effects from medications you're taking, as they may be blocking the absorption of electrolytes into the bloodstream.

  2. 2

    Make an appointment at the lab your doctor recommends. Be prepared to give a urine or blood sample. Your doctor may suggest that the lab screen for electrolyte imbalances based on any symptoms you report, or he may order a general screen. Most panels check for sodium, potassium, magnesium, chloride, phosphorous and bicarbonate unless otherwise directed.

  3. 3

    Wait for your test results and continue to monitor any unusual symptoms. Anything you can do to provide clues to your condition may be helpful in early prevention. Keep in mind electrolyte imbalances are often early indicators of kidney infections, heart conditions, diabetes and gastrointestinal diseases.

  4. 4

    Learn more about normal electrolyte levels. Expect calcium levels to fall somewhere between 8.5 and 10.5 mg per deciliter. Look for healthy potassium levels to fall in a range between 3.7 and 5.2 milliequivalents per liter. Expect sodium levels to fall somewhere between 136 to 144 milliequivalents per liter.

  5. 5

    Discuss the test results with your doctor. Ask your doctor to explain high or low electrolyte levels and create a electrolyte replacement plan. You may be able to stabilize your condition by adding certain foods or supplements to your diet.

  6. 6

    Take further tests as needed. Your doctor may request additional testing if your results show a higher or lower than average concentration of certain electrolytes like potassium or sodium.

Tips and warnings

  • Check with your doctor about eating or drinking restrictions prior to testing. With most tests you need to abstain from food or beverages for up to 12 hours beforehand.
  • Let your doctor know if you're taking antidepressants, birth control pills, laxatives or antacids containing calcium--they may affect test results.

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