Electrolyte Panel - P025
- Also Known As:
- Formal Name:
Lytes Anion Gap
- Sample Instructions:
As part of routine health screening or when your healthcare provider suspects that you have an imbalance of one of the electrolytes (usually sodium or potassium) or an acid-base imbalance
- Test Preparation Needed?
A blood sample drawn from a vein in your arm
- What Is Being Tested?
- How Is It Used?
What is being tested? Electrolytes are minerals that are found in body tissues and blood in the form of dissolved salts. As electrically charged particles, electrolytes help move nutrients into and wastes out of the body's cells, maintain a healthy water balance, and help stabilize the body's acid/base (pH) level. The electrolyte panel measures the blood levels of the main electrolytes in the body: sodium (Na+), potassium (K+), chloride (Cl-), and bicarbonate (HCO3-; sometimes reported as total CO2). A person's diet provides sodium, potassium, and chloride. The kidneys help maintain proper levels by reabsorption or by elimination into the urine. The lungs provide oxygen and regulate CO2. The CO2 is produced by the body and is in balance with bicarbonate. The overall balance of these chemicals is an indication of the functional well-being of several basic body functions. They are important in maintaining a wide range of body functions, including cardiac and skeletal muscle contraction and nerve impulse conduction. Any disease or condition that affects the amount of fluid in the body, such as dehydration, or affects the lungs, kidneys, metabolism, or breathing has the potential to cause a fluid, electrolyte, or pH imbalance (acidosis or alkalosis). Normal pH must be maintained within a narrow range of 7.35-7.45 and electrolytes must be in balance to ensure the proper functioning of metabolic processes and the delivery of the right amount of oxygen to tissues. (For more on this, see the condition article on Acidosis and Alkalosis and also on Dehydration.) A related "test" is the anion gap, which is a value calculated using the results of an electrolyte panel. It reflects the difference between the positively charged ions (called cations) and the negatively charged ions (called anions). An abnormal anion gap is non-specific but can suggest certain kinds of metabolic or respiratory disorders or the presence of toxic substances. For more information on anion gap, see
- When Is It Ordered
The electrolyte panel is used to identify an electrolyte, fluid, or pH imbalance (acidosis or alkalosis). It is frequently ordered as part of a routine physical. It may be ordered by itself or as a component of a basic metabolic panel (BMP) or a comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP). These panels can include other tests such as BUN, creatinine, and glucose. Electrolyte measurements may be used to help investigate conditions that cause electrolyte imbalances such as dehydration, kidney disease, lung diseases, or heart conditions. Repeat testing may then also be used to monitor treatment of the condition causing the imbalance. Since electrolyte and acid-base imbalances can be present with a wide variety of acute and chronic illnesses, the electrolyte panel is frequently used to evaluate patients both in the emergency room as well as hospitalized patients. The electrolyte panel typically includes tests for: Sodium—most of the body's sodium is found in extracellular fluid, outside of the body's cells, where it helps to regulate the amount of water in the body. Potassium—this electrolyte is found mainly inside the body's cells. A small but vital amount of potassium is found in the plasma, the liquid portion of the blood. Monitoring potassium is important as small changes in the potassium level can affect the heart's rhythm and ability to contract. Chloride—this electrolyte moves in and out of the cells to help maintain electrical neutrality and its level usually mirrors that of sodium. Bicarbonate—the main job of bicarbonate (or total CO2, an estimate of bicarbonate), which is released and reabsorbed by the kidneys, is to help maintain a stable pH level (acid-base balance) and, secondarily, to help maintain electrical neutrality. The results for an electrolyte panel may also include a calculation for anion gap (see Common Questions #1). If a person has an imbalance of a single electrolyte, such as sodium or potassium, the health practitioner may order
- What Does The Test Result Mean?
An electrolyte panel may be ordered as part of a routine screening or as a diagnostic aid when a person has signs and symptoms, such as: Fluid accumulation (edema) Nausea or vomiting Weakness Confusion Irregular heart beat (cardiac arrhythmias) It is frequently ordered as part of an evaluation when someone has an acute or chronic illness and at regular intervals when a person has a disease or condition or is taking a medication that can cause an electrolyte imbalance. Electrolyte tests are commonly ordered at regular intervals to monitor treatment of certain conditions, including high blood pressure (hypertension), heart failure, lung diseases, and liver and kidney disease.
- Is There Anything Else I Should Known?
High or low electrolyte levels can be caused by several conditions and diseases. Generally, they are affected by how much is consumed in the diet and absorbed by the body, the amount of water in a person's body, and the amount eliminated by the kidneys. They are also affected by some hormones such as aldosterone, a hormone that conserves sodium and promotes the elimination of potassium, and natriuretic peptides, which increase elimination of sodium by the kidneys. With respect to the amount of water in a person's body, people whose kidneys are not functioning properly, for example, may retain excess fluid. This results in a dilution effect on sodium and chloride so that they fall below normal concentrations. On the other hand, people who experience severe fluid loss may show an increase in potassium, sodium, and chloride concentrations. Some conditions such as heart disease and diabetes may also affect the fluid and electrolytes balance in the body and cause abnormal levels of electrolytes. Knowing which electrolytes are out of balance can help a health practitioner determine the underlying cause and make decisions about treatment to restore proper balance. Left untreated, an electrolyte imbalance can lead to various problems, including dizziness, cramps, irregular heartbeat, and possibly death. See the individual test articles on the components of the electrolytes panel for additional information on what results might mean: Sodium (see reference range) Potassium (see reference range) Chloride (see reference range) Bicarbonate (see reference range)
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