What Are Electrolyte and Mineral Metabolism Disorders?
Electrolyte and mineral metabolism disorders occur when your body can’t maintain the right mineral balance. You may have too few or too many of the minerals your cells, tissues and organs require. This can affect everything from your blood to your heart, lungs and brain. If untreated, some imbalances can become life-threatening.
Your body needs minerals for metabolism – bodily processes that create and use energy. Your metabolic rate increases after a meal or from exercise, fever or hormones, such as insulin and epinephrine.
Your body uses macro-minerals such as calcium in larger amounts. Trace minerals, such as iron are needed in smaller amounts.
Some macro-minerals are electrolytes. Common electrolytes are calcium, sodium, potassium, phosphate, magnesium and chloride. Electrolytes dissolve in fluid and carry an electric charge. They move electrical impulses from cell to cell to stimulate muscle contractions and nerves. They balance fluids in and around cells, and support hydration and blood pH levels (degrees of acidity). Having too few or too many electrolytes is dangerous or even fatal.
Your kidneys keep things in balance by filtering electrolytes and water from your blood. They return some electrolytes to your blood and excrete others into your urine.
Electrolyte and mineral metabolism disorders develop when something disturbs the delicate balance of these substances. Causes can include:
- Dehydration (too little water)
- Over-hydration (too much water)
- Loss of fluids due to diarrhea, vomiting, sweating or high fever
- Malabsorption due to a stomach disorder
- Eating disorders or a restrictive or poor diet
- Kidney, liver or heart disease
- Hormonal or endocrine disorders
- Certain medications, such as chemotherapy, diuretics, antibiotics and corticosteroids
Electrolyte and mineral metabolism disorders and symptoms vary widely, depending on which minerals are over (hyper) or under (hypo) normal levels. For example, potassium affects muscles, including your heart, and having very low levels (hypokalemia) is a medical emergency. Disordered calcium can cause osteoporosis, which has no symptoms at first but can lead to bone fracture.
Symptoms of metabolism disorders may include:
- Blood pressure changes
- Chronic fatigue
- Dizziness, especially when standing up suddenly
- Changes in appetite or body weight
- Confusion and difficulty concentrating
- Muscle weakness, aches or twitching
- Extreme thirst
- Heart palpitations or irregular heartbeats
- Digestive issues such as diarrhea or constipation
- Joint pain or numbness
An imbalance of trace minerals such as selenium or zinc can cause symptoms ranging from skin rash and poor wound healing to nausea or upper abdominal pain. Ask your doctor about any changes or unusual symptoms.
Treatment of metabolism disorders depends on your diagnosis. Your doctor can prescribe blood, urine and lab testing to check for abnormalities. In some instances, you may need an ultrasound, abdominal X-rays or an EKG test.
Treatments may include:
- Intravenous (IV) fluids
- Changes in diet
- Mineral or vitamin supplements
It’s important to replace electrolytes lost through vomiting, diarrhea or sweating, or poor diet. Eating leafy greens, fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole grains usually provides needed electrolytes. After strenuous exercise, you may need to drink sports drinks or fruit juices.
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