Fluid and electrolyte disorders are a group of conditions caused by a temporary disturbance in the body’s levels of fluids and electrolytes, which are electrically charged minerals in body fluids. Having the right amount of electrolytes, including calcium, chloride, magnesium, potassium, sodium, and certain acids, is essential for maintaining the health of nerves and muscles, including those in the brain, heart, lungs, and other vital organs.
Your child can develop a fluid and electrolyte imbalance if he or she becomes dehydrated, which occurs when the body loses too much fluid and cannot replace it quickly enough. Fever, medications such as diuretics, and excessive sweating are common causes of dehydration.
Symptoms vary depending on which electrolyte (or electrolytes) is out of balance. Common electrolyte disturbances involve calcium, potassium, and sodium. Doctors at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone are experienced in identifying fluid and electrolyte imbalances and offering the most effective treatment.
When a child has too much or too little calcium in the body, he or she can develop kidney stones, abdominal pain, weakness, muscle spasms, and a temporary abnormal heart rhythm, called an arrhythmia.
Children with chronic kidney disease or a thyroid disorder, such as Graves’ disease, may have high calcium levels. Those with nutritional disorders may have lower than normal calcium levels.
Children may experience a potassium deficiency as a result of vomiting, diarrhea, sweating, and taking medications, such as diuretics or laxatives.
Potassium levels can also be low in those who develop diabetic ketoacidosis, a condition in which the body has a buildup of ketones, a byproduct of the breakdown of fat. This may occur in children who have diabetes. Symptoms of potassium deficiency are often mild, but they may include abdominal cramping and a drop in blood pressure.
Potassium levels tend to build in children with poor kidney function, which prevents the mineral from being eliminated in urine. Unusually high potassium levels can also occur in children with conditions that affect the adrenal glands, which are located above the kidneys. These glands produce hormones involved in regulating blood pressure and metabolism. High potassium levels can lead to potentially life-threatening disturbances in heart rhythm.
Sodium helps maintain the body’s fluid levels. Symptoms of an imbalance include lethargy, confusion, weakness, swelling, seizures, and coma.
The causes of a sodium imbalance include dehydration, excessive sweating, severe burns, and kidney disease.
Our doctors recommend keeping your child hydrated to prevent fluid and electrolyte disorders. This is particularly important if your child has a serious underlying medical condition.
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