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Electrolytes Serum

Also Known as:  serum electrolyte test, an electrolyte panel 

What is a serum electrolyte test?

Electrolytes are electrically charged minerals that help regulate fluid balance and acid-base equilibrium in the body. They also assist in the regulation of muscle and nerve activity, heart rhythm and other vital activities. A serum electrolyte test, often known as an electrolyte panel, is a blood test that evaluates the levels of the body's major electrolytes:

Sodium is a mineral that helps in the regulation of fluid levels in the body and also facilitates the correct functioning of your neurons and muscles.

Chloride also helps in the regulation of fluid levels in the body and aids in the maintenance of a healthy blood volume and blood pressure.

Potassium is a mineral that assists in the healthy functioning of your heart and muscles.

Bicarbonate is a mineral that helps in the body's acid-base equilibrium and is also responsible for transporting carbon dioxide through the bloodstream.

Your body gets sodium, potassium, and chloride from the food you eat and the fluids you drink, the correct levels of which are maintained by kidneys through reabsorption and elimination.  The lungs are responsible for supplying oxygen and regulating carbon dioxide (CO2). CO2 is created by the body and is in balance with bicarbonate to maintain equilibrium. The total balance of these chemicals is a sign of how well various basic biological functions are working. They play a role in a variety of biological activities, including cardiac and skeletal muscle contraction, as well as nerve signaling.

Abnormal levels of any of these electrolytes may indicate a serious health concern, such as kidney disease, high blood pressure, or a potentially fatal heart rhythm irregularity.

While sodium, potassium, chloride, and bicarbonate are commonly measured as part of an electrolyte panel, they can also be ordered separately for diagnosis and monitoring of disorders affecting specific electrolytes. Other electrolytes found in the body such as Calcium (Ca2+), magnesium (Mg2+), and phosphate (PO43-) are not included in the "electrolyte panel," but maybe requested by your healthcare provider.  

What is the test used for?

An electrolyte panel is often ordered as part of a routine health exam or a comprehensive metabolic panel. The test can be used to determine if your body has an electrolyte, fluid, or acid-base imbalance.

Electrolyte measurements can be used to evaluate conditions including dehydration, kidney disease, lung disease, or heart disease that may cause electrolyte imbalances and may also be used to monitor the progress of treatment for the condition that is causing the imbalance.

If you have an imbalance of a single electrolyte, such as sodium or potassium, your healthcare provider may prescribe additional testing of that specific electrolyte and may monitor the imbalance until it resolves. If you have an acid-base imbalance, your healthcare provider may prescribe blood gases tests, which measure the pH, oxygen, and carbon dioxide levels in an arterial blood sample to evaluate the severity of the imbalance and monitor its response to treatment.

Why and when do you need this test?

Your healthcare provider may order this test if you have symptoms indicating that your body's electrolytes are out of balance.  These are some of them:

  • Vomiting
  • nausea
  • Confusion
  • Weakness
  • Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
  • Fluid accumulation (edema)

Electrolyte tests are frequently ordered at regular intervals to monitor the treatment of certain acute or chronic conditions such as hypertension, heart failure, lung diseases, liver disease, and renal disease or if you are using a medicine that may cause an electrolyte imbalance

What kind of sample is required for the test?

A small needle will be used by a healthcare professional to obtain a blood sample from a vein in your arm.  A small amount of blood will be collected into a test tube or vial once the needle is inserted. When the needle goes in or out, it may sting a little. It normally takes less than five minutes to complete this process.

Do you need to prepare for the test?

An electrolyte blood test does not require any specific preparation. If there are any special instructions to follow regarding additional testing, your health care provider will inform you.

Are there any risks to this test?

Having a blood test carries relatively little risk. You may experience little pain or bruising where the needle gets inserted, but most symptoms disappear quickly.

What do the test results mean?

Measurements for each electrolyte will be included in your results. Several factors can contribute to abnormal electrolyte levels, including:

  • Kidney disease
  • Dehydration
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Acidosis ( a condition in which your blood contains too much acid)
  • Alkalosis (a condition in which your blood contains too much base)

Some hormones, such as aldosterone, which conserves sodium while facilitating potassium elimination, and natriuretic peptides, which stimulate sodium excretion via the kidneys may also have an effect on electrolyte levels. Knowing which electrolytes are out of balance can assist your healthcare provider in determining the underlying cause and making treatment recommendations to restore appropriate balance. An electrolyte imbalance may also have complications including dizziness, confusion, muscle cramping, irregular heartbeat, and even death if left untreated.

The results will depend on which electrolyte is affected and whether levels are too low or too high. If your electrolyte levels are abnormal, it does not necessarily mean you have a medical problem that requires treatment. Electrolyte levels can be affected by a variety of factors such as taking in too much fluid or losing fluid due to vomiting or diarrhea. Additionally, some medications, such as antacids and blood pressure medications, might produce aberrant readings.

Related Tests: Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate test (ESR), Serum Sodium test. Serum Potassium test, serum chloride test, Bicarbonate (Total CO2), Blood Gases, Creatinine serum test, osmolality blood test,  calcium blood test, magnesium blood test, phosphorus, comprehensive metabolic panel test, basic metabolic panel test

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