What is an Electrolyte?

NewsGuard 100/100 Score

Electrolyte is the medical term for a salt or ion in the blood or other bodily fluid that carries a charge.

The dissolution of some biological polymers such as DNA or synthetic polymers such as polystyrene sulfonate gives a solution of electrolytes that are referred to as polyelectrolytes and these contain charged functional groups. Placing a salt into a solvent (such as water) also results in an electrolyte solution, as the components in the salt dissociate in a process called solvation. When sodium chloride or table salt is added to water, for example, the salt dissolves and breaks down into its component ions sodium (Na+) and chloride (Cl-). Similarly, when the gas carbon dioxide is dissolved in water, it produces the carbonate ions, hydrogen carbonate ions and hydronium ions. Melted salts can also be electrolytes. For example, molten sodium chloride becomes a liquid that can conduct electricity.

The electrolyte in a solution is termed concentrated if it has a high number of ions and dilute if it has a low number. Therefore, if a large amount of the solute dissociates to give free ions, the electrolyte is strong whereas if a small proportion of the solute dissociates, the electrolyte is weak. Electrolytes have several properties that can be utilized in the process of electrolysis as a means of separating and extracting the elements and compounds present in a solution.

In biological systems, the main electrolytes are:

  • Sodium (Na+)
  • Potassium (K+)
  • Calcium (Ca2+)
  • Magnesium (Mg2+)
  • Chloride (Cl−)
  • Hydrogen phosphate (HPO42−)
  • Hydrogen carbonate (HCO3−).

The plus or minus symbol indicates the ionic nature of the substance that its either positive or negative charge as a result of dissocation. These electrolytes are essential to various bodily functions and an electrolyte imbalance can be dangerous and even life threatening, depending on the clinical scenario. The balance of electrolyte levels is therefore carefully maintained in the body and may be checked in the blood or urine as a measure of health. Electrolyte loss is common in cases of excessive vomiting, diarrhea or sweating but may be replaced using isotonic drinks or in some cases, oral rehydration solution (ORS).

Further Reading

Last Updated: Jul 5, 2023

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.


Please use one of the following formats to cite this article in your essay, paper or report:

  • APA

    Mandal, Ananya. (2023, July 05). What is an Electrolyte?. News-Medical. Retrieved on May 22, 2024 from https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-an-Electrolyte.aspx.

  • MLA

    Mandal, Ananya. "What is an Electrolyte?". News-Medical. 22 May 2024. <https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-an-Electrolyte.aspx>.

  • Chicago

    Mandal, Ananya. "What is an Electrolyte?". News-Medical. https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-an-Electrolyte.aspx. (accessed May 22, 2024).

  • Harvard

    Mandal, Ananya. 2023. What is an Electrolyte?. News-Medical, viewed 22 May 2024, https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-an-Electrolyte.aspx.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
Post a new comment

While we only use edited and approved content for Azthena answers, it may on occasions provide incorrect responses. Please confirm any data provided with the related suppliers or authors. We do not provide medical advice, if you search for medical information you must always consult a medical professional before acting on any information provided.

Your questions, but not your email details will be shared with OpenAI and retained for 30 days in accordance with their privacy principles.

Please do not ask questions that use sensitive or confidential information.

Read the full Terms & Conditions.

You might also like...
Fetal hormone GDF15 linked to nausea and vomiting in pregnancy