Electrolytes are technically the dissolved salts present in the body fluids. Determining the levels of these chemicals in the bloodstream is a commonly performed blood test, usually ordered when it is suspected that your child might be dehydrated (although there are certainly other known or suspected conditions in which the test would be appropriate). Electrolytes, or 'lytes as you will commonly overhear, are thus often important for determining whether your child can be managed with oral rehydration fluids or should be admitted to the hospital for intravenous treatment.

For your edification, the elements of the electrolyte examination with brief explanations are presented in the table below. The expected levels are fairly constant from hospital to hospital, but do vary a little due to equipment calibration issues.

Some hospitals (usually university teaching hospitals) have gone to a more modern and to me, needlessly obscure way of reporting. They did this to make the arithmetic easier for researchers (not to make medicine any better for the patients), and to thoroughly confuse and befuddle us old country doctors. The more commonly used system is employed here.

See also CBC, complete blood count.

Test Symbol Expected
sodium Na 138-145
potassium K 3.8 - 4.8
chloride Cl 98-108
bicarbonate HCO3 20-25

Often your doctor will order a combination test, sometimes known as a "Profile-7," or "six-sixty," or some such jargon, which means a battery of the electrolytes plus usually a blood glucose and blood urea nitrogen ("BUN" - a test of kidney waste clearance) and perhaps a creatinine level thrown in (another test of kidney waste clearance) for good measure. The battery of tests are all done anyway on the automated machine... no extra blood is drawn. These extra tests are listed below:

Test Expected
glucose 90-110
BUN 7-22
creatinine 0.3-1.0

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