An electrolyte imbalance occurs when certain mineral levels in your blood get too high or too low. Symptoms of an electrolyte imbalance vary depending on the severity and electrolyte type, including weakness and muscle spasms. A blood test called an electrolyte panel checks levels.
An electrolyte imbalance occurs when you have too much or not enough of certain minerals in your body. This imbalance may be a sign of a problem like kidney disease.
Electrolytes are minerals that give off an electrical charge when they dissolve in fluids like blood and urine. Your body makes electrolytes. You also get these minerals from foods, drinks and supplements. Electrolytes in blood, tissue, urine and other body fluids play a critical role in balancing body fluids, regulating your heart rhythm and supporting nerve and muscle function.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
Electrolytes perform different functions in your body:
High electrolyte imbalances include:
Low electrolytes or electrolyte deficiencies include:
Water makes up more than half of your body’s weight. Blood and fluid in and around cells (called fluid compartments) hold most of this water. Your kidneys and liver, as well as other organs and tissue, continually move electrolytes in and out of cells to adjust fluid levels within the compartments.
Certain health conditions can affect your body’s ability to move and balance electrolytes. When fluid compartments have too many or too few electrolytes, you have an electrolyte imbalance.
Infants, young children and older adults are more prone to changes in electrolyte levels, but an imbalance can happen to anyone.
Certain conditions can also throw off your body’s electrolyte levels. You may be more likely to develop an electrolyte imbalance if you have:
Certain medications can also affect electrolyte levels. These include:
Symptoms of an electrolyte imbalance vary depending on the severity and electrolyte type. A slight electrolyte imbalance may not cause noticeable changes.
When problems occur, you may experience:
An electrolyte panel is a blood test that measures electrolyte levels. Healthcare providers often order an electrolyte panel if you:
Your provider may also order a basic metabolic panel or comprehensive metabolic panel. These blood tests check for electrolytes, as well as other substances in blood.
Treatment depends on the specific electrolyte imbalance and cause. Some imbalances will correct without treatment.
To treat dehydration, your provider may recommend rehydrating with electrolyte drinks or an oral rehydration salt (ORS) solution. Your provider can tell you the correct amount of sugar, salt and water to make this solution at home. Or you can buy ORS packets at a drugstore.
Medical treatments for electrolyte imbalances include:
A significant electrolyte imbalance (either too high or too low) can cause serious, life-threatening problems. These complications include:
Proper hydration can help your body maintain a healthy level of electrolytes. It’s especially important to drink enough fluids if you experience prolonged diarrhea, vomiting or sweating.
You should call your healthcare provider if you experience:
You may want to ask your healthcare provider:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Electrolytes like potassium, sodium, magnesium and calcium help your body regulate fluids. Certain health conditions can affect electrolyte levels in blood, urine and tissues, causing an electrolyte imbalance. An electrolyte panel as part of a routine blood test may detect this imbalance. Or you may have symptoms that indicate a problem with electrolyte levels.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 08/13/2022.
Learn more about our editorial process.