Glossary of Medical Terms

Electrolytes and electrolyte imbalances

Electrolytes are minerals found naturally in the body, such as potassium, calcium, sodium, and magnesium. Electrolytes are needed to keep the body's balance of fluids at the proper level and to maintain normal functions, such as heart rhythm, muscle contraction, and brain function.

If the body's electrolytes are not in proper balance, a person may have seizures, an irregular heartbeat, muscle weakness, and other problems. Electrolyte imbalances can be caused by a variety of health conditions, such as chronic heart or kidney disease, endocrine diseases (such as problems with the adrenal, pituitary, thyroid, or parathyroid glands), eating disorders, or bone disorders. Any condition that causes the body to lose too much water (such as diarrhea, vomiting, fever, or taking medications called diuretics) can also lead to an electrolyte imbalance. 

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