The brain operates in an extraordinarily intricate environment which demands precise regulation of electrolytes. Tight control over their concentrations and gradients across cellular compartments is essential and when these relationships are disturbed neurologic manifestations may develop. Perturbations of sodium are the electrolyte disturbances that most often lead to neurologic manifestations. Alterations in extracellular fluid sodium concentrations produce water shifts that lead to brain swelling or shrinkage. If marked or rapid they can result in profound changes in brain function which are proportional to the degree of cerebral edema or contraction. Adaptive mechanisms quickly respond to changes in cell size by either increasing or decreasing intracellular osmoles in order to restore size to normal. Unless cerebral edema has been severe or prolonged, correction of sodium disturbances usually restores function to normal. If the rate of correction is too rapid or overcorrection occurs, however, new neurologic manifestations may appear as a result of osmotic demyelination syndrome. Disturbances of magnesium, phosphate and calcium all may contribute to alterations in sensorium. Hypomagnesemia and hypocalcemia can lead to weakness, muscle spasms, and tetany; the weakness from hypophosphatemia and hypomagnesemia can impair respiratory function. Seizures can be seen in cases with very low concentrations of sodium, magnesium, calcium, and phosphate.
Keywords: Electrolytes; central pontine myelinolysis; fluid management; hypernatremia; hyponatremia.
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