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Why do I need electrolytes?

Why Do I Need Electrolytes?

Have you ever wondered why you get tired much faster on warmer days than on cold ones or why you become dizzy and weak when you are dehydrated? As you are learning, your body is more than a collection of organs. In addition to understanding where we come from and what we are made of, we must understand the role of chemicals in our body. Chemicals can help you to maintain homeostasis, but an imbalance can also disrupt this important process. Electrolytes, substances that are able to conduct electricity when they are dissolved, are some of these chemicals. Scientists have identified four main electrolytes in the human body: sodium, potassium, chloride and bicarbonate.

On a warm day, George embarks on his first 5K run. After approximately 40 minutes, he becomes dizzy, then stumbles and falls. When emergency personnel arrive on the scene, they find him weak but awake. He complains of muscle pain in his limbs and dizziness. He mentions that before leaving his home, he ate a piece of toast and a large cup of coffee. He has not consumed any other foods or beverages since leaving his home.

In your main response, please address the following questions. What could be happening to George? How should he be treated? Based on what you've learned thus far, what could George have done to help prevent this situation? What factors may be contributing to George's symptoms?

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Solution Preview

Electrolytes and electricity

Electrolytes are chemical salts (such as NaCl and KCl) that dissociate into charged ions in an aqueous solution such as the blood or cytoplasm. When electrolytes are dissolved they can carry electric current through the solution. This is how a battery works. Here is a fun website explaining how to make homemade battery cells (http://sci-toys.com/scitoys/scitoys/echem/batteries/batteries.html).

Muscles and Neurons

Instead of copper wires to conduct electricity in our bodies, we have neurons. While the conduction of electricity in a neuron is a little complicated, it essentially uses the power of electrolytes in the extracellular and intracellular fluids. A cell capable of conducting electricity is called an excitable cell, and neurons are not the only cells in our body that are excitable. ...

Solution Summary

What are electrolytes and why are they important for nerve and muscle function? What happens when we experience electrolyte imbalance? What does dehydration have to do with electrolytes? This Solution covers basic information related to electrochemistry and its importance in the body. It also provides some information regarding ways to properly treat dehydration.