Sodium, potassium and urea measurement

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Electrolytes are solutions that conduct electricity. Any molecule that becomes an ion when mixed with water is an electrolyte. Salts such as sodium, potassium, calcium and chloride are examples of electrolytes.

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When these molecules dissolve in water, they release ions with an electric charge, positive or negative, that attracts or repels other ions during a chemical reaction. In living cells, most chemical reaction occur in an aqueous environment since approximately 75% of the mass of the living cell is water. Normally 70kg man, represent with 42 litres of total body water that contribute for about 60% of the total body weight. (Marshall, 2000). 66% of this water is in the intracellular fluid (ICF) and 33% in the extracellular fluid (ECF). The principle univalent cations in the ECF and ICF are sodium (Na+) and potassium (K+) respectively.

Sodium (Na+)

Sodium is the major cation of the extracellular fluid (ECF). It represents almost one-half the osmatic strength of plasma. It plays an important role in maintaining the normal distribution of water and osmatic pressure in the ECF compartment. Sodium levels in the body are regulated ultimately by the kidneys (it excrete excess sodium). The main source of sodium is sodium chloride (NaCl- table salt) which is used in cooking. The daily requirement of the body is about 1 – 2 mmol/day. Sodium is filtered freely by the glomeruli. About 70 – 80 % of the filtered sodium load is reabsorbed actively in the proximal tubules (with chloride and water passively) and anther 20 – 25 % is reabsorbed in the loop of Henle (along with chloride and more water). Normal ECF sodium concentration is 135 – 145 mmol/L while that of the intracellular fluid (ICF) is only 4-10 mmol/L. sodium is lost via urine, sweat or stool. (Marshall, 2000).


Hypernatraemia (high sodium levels in the blood) may occurs due to increase sodium intake, decrease excretion, dehydration (water loss) or failure to replace normal water losses. It can also occurs because of excessive mineral corticoid (such as Aldosterone) production acting on renal reabsorption. The clinical features of hypernatraemia are non-specific or masked by underlying conditions. Nausea, vomiting, fever and confusion may occur. A history of long standing polyuria, polydipsia, and theist indicates diabetes insipidus. Hypernatraemia is caused by many diseases such as renal failure, Cushing’s syndrome or Conn’s syndrome. Conn’s syndrome is a disease of the adrenal glands involving excess production of a hormone, called aldosterone. Another name for the condition is primary hyperaldosteronism.


Hyponatraemia (low sodium levels in the blood) is caused by impaired renal reabsorption of sodium. This occurs in Addison’s disease of the adrenal gland due to loss of aldosterone producing zona glomerulosa cortical cells. Sodium decreases in severe sweating in a hot climate or during physical exertion such as marathon running.

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