Nurses sometime underestimate the power of electrolytes. Although we learn about electrolytes is nursing school, we typically don’t carve out a lot of time for them like we do with the cardiac or respiratory system. Yet electrolytes are involved in every single muscle contraction, digestive process, and brain impulse!!
Understanding the role of electrolytes can help you understand every body system and chemical reaction needed to survive. It can also help you anticipate and prevent patient complications and provide high quality care.
Basically, you have the same amount of electrolytes INSIDE the cell as you do OUTSIDE. However, when we draw blood from patients, we can only measure what’s outside.
Consider Potassium. Normal serum potassium is 3.5 – 5.0 meq/L. Not very much. However, if you could measure how much potassium was INSIDE the cell you find around 145 meq/L.
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?
Nurses spend a lot of time monitoring and replacing electrolytes. The speed in which you replace some electrolytes is critical!! Too fast and you can cause the patient to go into cardiac arrest!
General rule of thumb
If you have more of that electrolyte INSIDE the cell than OUTSIDE, replace slowly. For example – potassium and magnesium. You would never want to push potassium – I would consider that a lethal injection!!
Before giving any electrolyte, always think…
· Why am I giving this electrolyte replacement?
· How can I administer this electrolyte safely?
· How will the body respond?
· How will I know the replacement was effective?
Remember, ignorance is NOT a defense. Know your electrolytes!
Thanks for reading and for choosing to become a nurse. I’m cheering for your success!
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