Electrolytes are electrically charged minerals that help control the amount of fluids and the balance of acids and bases in your body. They also help control muscle and nerve activity, heart rhythm, and other important functions. An electrolyte panel, also known as a serum electrolyte test, is a blood test that measures levels of the body’s main electrolytes:
- Sodium, which helps control the amount of fluid in the body. It also helps your nerves and muscles work properly.
- Chloride, which also helps control the amount of fluid in the body. In addition, it helps maintain healthy blood volume and blood pressure.
- Potassium, which helps your heart and muscles work properly.
- Bicarbonate, which helps maintain the body’s acid and base balance. It also plays an important role in moving carbon dioxide through the bloodstream.
Abnormal levels of any of these electrolytes can be a sign of a serious health problem, including kidney disease, high blood pressure, and a life-threatening irregularity in heart rhythm.
Other names: serum electrolyte test, lytes, sodium (Na), potassium (K), chloride (Cl), carbon dioxide (CO2)
What is it used for?
An electrolyte panel is often part of a routine blood screening or a comprehensive metabolic panel. The test may also be used to find out if your body has a fluid imbalance or an imbalance in acid and base levels.
Electrolytes are usually measured together. But sometimes they are tested individually. Separate testing may be done if a provider suspects a problem with a specific electrolyte.
Why do I need an electrolyte panel?
You may need this test if you have symptoms indicating that your body’s electrolytes may be out of balance. These include:
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
What happens during an electrolyte panel?
A health care professional will take a blood sample from a vein in your arm, using a small needle. After the needle is inserted, a small amount of blood will be collected into a test tube or vial. You may feel a little sting when the needle goes in or out. This usually takes less than five minutes.
Will I need to do anything to prepare for the test?
You don’t any special preparations for an electrolyte panel.
Are there any risks to the test?
There is very little risk to having a blood test. You may have slight pain or bruising at the spot where the needle was put in, but most symptoms go away quickly.
What do the results mean?
Your results will include measurements for each electrolyte. Abnormal electrolyte levels can be caused by several different conditions, including:
- Kidney disease
- Heart disease
- Acidosis, a condition in which you have too much acid in your blood. It can cause nausea, vomiting, and fatigue.
- Alkalosis, a condition in which you have too much base in your blood. It can cause irritability, muscle twitching, and tingling in the fingers and toes.
Your specific results will depend on which electrolyte is affected and whether levels are too low or too high. If your electrolyte levels were not in the normal range, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have a medical problem needing treatment. Many factors can affect electrolyte levels. These include taking in too much fluid or losing fluid because of vomiting or diarrhea. Also, certain medicines such as antacids and blood pressure medicines may cause abnormal results.
If you have questions about your results, talk to your health care provider.
Is there anything else I need to know about an electrolyte panel?
Your health care provider may order another test, called an anion gap, along with your electrolyte panel. Some electrolytes have a positive electric charge. Others have a negative electric charge. The anion gap is a measurement of the difference between the negatively charged and positively charged electrolytes. If the anion gap is either too high or too low, it may be a sign of a serious health problem.
Courtesy of MedlinePlus from the National Library of Medicine.