Dehydration Can Cause Electrolyte Imbalances


Dehydration in nursing home residents is a sign of nursing home abuse and neglect. Frequently, cases of dehydration can be traced back to inadequate staffing levels at the nursing home. When a resident is identified as dehydrated, or at risk for dehydration, a medical evaluation should be conducted to determine whether the resident is also suffering from an electrolyte imbalance due to the dehydration.

What Are Electrolytes? What is an Electrolyte Imbalance?

Electrolytes are very important to maintaining homeostatic conditions in the body and serve as important elements for transmitting electrical impulses and signals amongst cells in the body. One of the biggest problems that result from dehydration is that of electrolyte imbalances. An electrolyte imbalance occurs when the concentration of a mineral, or electrolyte, becomes too high or too low relative to the amount of water available in the body. When electrolyte levels are too high, the resulting condition is denoted with the prefix “hyper-” and when electrolyte levels are too low, or deficient, the resulting condition is denoted with the prefix “hypo-”. The most frequently observed electrolyte imbalances associated with dehydration concern sodium, potassium, and chloride, but other electrolytes that can become imbalanced include calcium, magnesium, and phosphate.

Not Enough Water Increases Salt Concentrations

When there is too much salt in the blood, compared to the amount of available water, an electrolyte imbalance can result called hypernatremia. This condition is not so much an excess of sodium in the blood but rather is characterized as insufficient water relative to the amount of salt. Put differently, the body is water deficient, thereby making the concentration of sodium higher in the blood than usual. An increase in salt concentration causes water to be pulled out of cells through osmosis, thereby shrinking the cells, which can lead to cell death if not treated. Fortunately, hypernatremia is easily corrected by restoring hydration to the affected individual. When supplied with sufficient fluids, this electrolyte imbalance should correct itself. Hypernatremia is often the result of not imbibing enough fluids.

Too Little Potassium

Potassium is an electrolyte that is necessary for nerve and muscle cell functioning, particularly in the heart. When potassium levels in the blood are too low, the resulting electrolyte imbalance is called hypokalemia, which can cause abnormal heart rhythms and muscle cramps. Hypokalemia can be a particularly dangerous condition in older people with underlying heart conditions. Medical treatment should be sought immediately if hypokalemia due to dehydration is suspected in a nursing home resident.

Too Much Chloride

The body uses chloride for many functions, but most notably to aid in digestion and to activate saliva enzymes. Hyperchloremia occurs when there is too much chloride in the blood relative to the amount of available water. Chloride levels are managed by the kidneys and are vital to the process of keeping acids and bases balanced in the body.

If you are worried that your loved one is suffering from an electrolyte imbalance due to dehydration, please contact the Rooth Law Firm online or by phone at (800) 598-4348 to discuss your concerns.

Photo Credit: igorms via Compfight cc