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Guide to Electrolytes

Electrolytes are minerals that carry an electric charge and conduct electrical signals throughout our bodies. They help us regulate water distribution, maintain acid-base balance, and transmit nerve impulses. They also contribute to energy generation and blood clotting.  Fluid and electrolyte preparations are the most commonly prescribed medications in hospitals and other healthcare settings. It is crucial that nurses understand the water and electrolyte balance as this is crucial for body homeostasis.

Download a printable copy of the Guide to Electrolytes

This resource accompanies our continuing education course Total Parenteral Nutrition in the Adult Patient and video series Fluid and Electrolytes.

 


Guide to Electrolytes
 

Potassium (K)
  • Main intracellular fluid (ICF) cation

  • Affects a cell’s electrical status when permeating cell membranes

  • Regulates cell excitability

  • Balances ICF osmolality and ICF osmotic pressure


Magnesium (Mg)
  • A leading ICF cation

  • Contributes to enzymatic and metabolic processes (i.e. protein synthesis)

  • Modifies neural communication, heart function and skeletal muscle response


Phosphorus (P)
  • Main ICF anion

  • Acts as a hydrogen buffer and acid/base balance

  • Formation of red blood cells

  • Supports energy storage and carbohydrate, protein, and fat metabolism


Sodium (Na)
  • Main extracellular fluid (ECF) cation

  • Activates nerve and muscle cells

  • Helps maintain acid-base balance

  • Helps govern normal osmolality

  • Maintains fluid balance in the blood


Chloride (Cl)
  • Main ECF anion

  • Helps maintain normal ECF osmolality

  • Affects body pH

  • Plays a vital role in maintaining acid-base balance; combines with hydrogen ions to produce hydrochloric acid


Calcium (Ca)
  • A major cation in teeth and bones; found in fairly equal concentrations in ICF and ECF

  • Helps cells maintain their shape and adhere to one another

  • Acts as an enzyme activator within cells

  • Aids blood coagulation

  • Affects cell membrane permeability and firing level

  • Important role in muscle contraction

  • Inhibitory affect on neurons


Bicarbonate (HCO3-)
  • Present in ECF

  • Primary function is regulating acid-base balance

  • Affected by food, medications, kidney and lung function

 

 

 

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