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What are Electrolytes and Tests to Measure the Levels of Electrolytes in the Body

There are many harmful chemicals found in our everyday environment, but our bodies also contain chemicals used for normal bodily functions. Not all chemicals are found in the body, but those that are important for good health can be measured in the blood and other bodily fluids. These measurements assist physicians in assessing organ function to better understand a patient’s health status.

The body contains proteins, liver enzymes, and lipids. It also contains many different chemicals found in bodily fluids called ions. These electrically charged ions or electrolytes include potassium, sodium, and chloride. Additional substances that are measured or analyzed include urea, uric acid, creatinine, and ammonia.

The medical assistant is responsible for specimen collection, processing specimens for transportation to the laboratory, obtaining and reporting results, and follow-up with the patient as instructed by a physician. So, what are electrolytes?

What Are Electrolytes?

Electrolytes are any substances in the body containing ions and chemicals that have an electrical charge. To maintain bodily functions, the body requires an electrical charge.

Supporting the proper functioning of the body are fluid balance, acid/base balance, and proper functioning of the cardiovascular and nervous systems. Common electrolytes in the human body include bicarbonate, calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and sodium.

Bicarbonate – Bicarbonate is an electrolyte with a negative charge that is formed with carbon dioxide dissolved in the blood. Bicarbonate is used by the body to maintain acid/base balance in the body, that is the pH of the blood.

Calcium – Calcium carries a positive charge and assists with tooth and bone health, nervous system function, and cardiac function.

Chloride – Chloride is a major electrolyte outside the body’s cells that carries a negative charge to help carry electricity in the body. Chloride helps maintain the acid/base balance in the body.

Magnesium – Magnesium is a mineral that can be found both in the environment and a patient’s diet. It is part of the body’s cells and carries a positive charge. Magnesium is used by the body for bone strength and development. It is also necessary for the proper functioning of nerves and muscles.

Phosphorus – Phosphorus is the major electrolyte inside the cells of the body. Most of the phosphorus is found in the bones of the body, but some is included in blood and used for the functioning of nerves and the building of genetic materials.

Potassium – Potassium is the major positive electrolyte inside a cell. It supports the contraction of skeletal and cardiac muscles. Potassium is important in controlling the electrical activity of the heart muscle, building proteins, breaking down carbohydrates for energy, and maintaining the acid/base balance.

Sodium – Sodium is the major electrolyte found in the water outside the body’s cells and is partly responsible for fluid balance.

Non-Protein Nitrogenous Compounds (NPN)

Although there are around 15 non-protein nitrogenous compounds in the body, there are three NPNs that a physician is most likely to order for evaluation of kidney function. The three NPNs include urea, creatinine, and uric acid. The kidney filters out the NPNs, so an elevated level suggests an impairment in kidney function.

Urea – Nitrogen and urea are produced and released into the bloodstream as proteins that are metabolized by the body.

Creatinine – Creatinine is a waste product that comes from the breakdown of creatine which is made by the body to supply energy to muscles.

Uric Acid – Uric acid is produced as a waste product resulting from the breakdown of purine. Purine is a substance found in the food we eat.

Bodily Functions

Physicians can test bodily functions by measuring the levels of electrolytes and NPNs in the body. The lack of a specific electrolyte or NPN suggests that the organ that manages it may be damaged or nonfunctional. The physician will check the body’s acid/base balance and perform liver function tests, thyroid function tests, cardiac function tests, and pancreatic function tests.

Acid/Base Balance – Bodily fluids require stability of acid and alkaline products produced by the body to promote adequate organ and body system function. Acid and base levels are dependent on metabolism. An imbalance suggests that an organ or body system is not functioning well.

Liver Function Tests – The liver takes nutrients from the digestive system and processes and stores them by sending those nutrients to different parts of the body in the right form and quantity. The liver regulates the glucose, protein, and fat entering the blood. The liver also removes ammonia, bilirubin, and other toxins from the blood.

Thyroid Function Tests – The thyroid absorbs iodine to make the hormones that regulate metabolism in all cells of the body.

Cardiac Function Tests – These measure the blood levels of specific enzymes and proteins found in muscle tissue and released during muscle injury.

Pancreatic Function Tests – The pancreas secretes the hormone insulin. The pancreas also secretes two digestive enzymes into the small intestine to help in the digestion of fats and the breakdown of starch into sugar.

Still wondering what are electrolytes? Don’t worry, you will learn all about electrolytes and everything else you need to know to become a medical assistant at Hunter Business School.

The Medical Assistant program at Hunter Business School prepares competent, entry-level medical assistants in the cognitive (knowledge), psychomotor (skills), and affective (behavior) learning domains required for professional practice.

The Medical Assistant program provides hands-on experience in a medical facility where you can foster professional relationships with real patients. Medical Assistant students spend 160 hours in an externship in a real-world medical work environment where they are supervised and taught in order to gain valuable on-the-job training.

Contact us today to find out more about how to become a medical assistant on Long Island.