Chloride: the queen of electrolytes?

Eur J Intern Med. 2012 Apr;23(3):203-11. doi: 10.1016/j.ejim.2011.11.013. Epub 2011 Dec 21.


Background: Channelopathies, defined as diseases that are caused by mutations in genes encoding ion channels, are associated with a wide variety of symptoms and have been documented extensively over the past decade. In contrast, despite the important role of chloride in serum, textbooks in general do not allocate chapters exclusively on hypochloremia or hyperchloremia and information on chloride other than channelopathies is scattered in the literature.

Study design: To systematically review the function of chloride in man, data for this review include searches of MEDLINE, PubMed, and references from relevant articles including the search terms "chloride," "HCl," "chloride channel" "acid-base," "acidosis," "alkalosis," "anion gap" "strong anion gap" "Stewart," "base excess" and "lactate." In addition, internal medicine, critical care, nephrology and gastroenterology textbooks were evaluated on topics pertaining the assessment and management of acid-base disorders, including reference lists from journals or textbooks.

Conclusion: Chloride is, after sodium, the most abundant electrolyte in serum, with a key role in the regulation of body fluids, electrolyte balance, the preservation of electrical neutrality, acid-base status and it is an essential component for the assessment of many pathological conditions. When assessing serum electrolytes, abnormal chloride levels alone usually signify a more serious underlying metabolic disorder, such as metabolic acidosis or alkalosis. Chloride is an important component of diagnostic tests in a wide array of clinical situations. In these cases, chloride can be tested in sweat, serum, urine and feces. Abnormalities in chloride channel expression and function in many organs can cause a range of disorders.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acid-Base Equilibrium / physiology*
  • Channelopathies / genetics
  • Channelopathies / metabolism*
  • Chloride Channels / genetics
  • Chloride Channels / metabolism*
  • Chlorides / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Water-Electrolyte Imbalance / genetics
  • Water-Electrolyte Imbalance / metabolism*


  • Chloride Channels
  • Chlorides