What could cause occasional electrolyte imbalances?

1 answer | Last updated: Nov 12, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My mother has dementia but has occasional bouts with stroke like symptoms such as her going back 20 or so years, doesn't know where she is at and memory loss. This usually happens every three to four months. We take her to the hospital, it comes on in a matter of hours, and within days she is doing well after her sodium and potassium levels are back to normal. Every time the doctors give us conflicting information. Her body is dehydrated as if not enough fluid is taken in but her system seems to be flushed with excess liquid as indicated by her low potassium and sodium. Is there anything that may be causing the loss of these. We have her drink plenty of fluids daily and eats normally. She is 84 years-old and other than the normal memeory loss seems to be in good health, other than these bouts of extraordinary memory loss. Thanks

Expert Answers

Jennifer Serafin, N.P. is a registered nurse and geriatric nurse practitioner at the Jewish Homes for the Aged in San Francisco.

This is a difficult question to answer, as I cannot examine your mother or see the actual lab results that you talk about in your question.  That being said, the symptoms you describe your mother having can be brought on by low sodium.  For the most part, low potassium and low sodium are usually caused by kidney problems, malabsorption syndromes, diabetes, or medications.  I would take your mother to see her primary care provider and ask them to look into this problem, to see if can be fixed.  They should review her medications, as these may contribute to the problem.  She may also have a kidney disorder or an endocrine disorder, like Addison's disease or aldosteronism, but these disorders can be found with simple blood tests.

When she goes to see her provider, please bring a list of all medications she takes, including over-the-counter medications, vitamins, or any herbal supplements she is using.  Also, pay attention to her diet.  Is she watching her salt intake?  Does she eat licorice?  Is she taking alot of laxatives?  Let her provider know if you have any additional information.  Good luck!