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Fluid imbalance

Definition

A fluid imbalance refers to an abnormal level of fluids in the body.

Alternative Names

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Your body is constantly losing fluids through breathing, sweating, and urinating. If you do not take in enough fluids, you may become dehydrated.

Your body may also have a hard time getting rid of fluids, allowing excess fluid to build up. This is called fluid overload.

Many illnesses can cause fluid imbalance:

  • It is common to retain large amounts of fluid for several days after surgery (causing swelling of the body).
  • In heart failure, fluid collects in the lungs, liver, blood vessels, and body tissues because the heart does a poor job of pumping it to the kidneys where it can be eliminated.
  • When the kidneys do not work well because of chronic kidney disease, the body cannot get rid of unneeded fluids.
  • The body may lose too much fluid due to diarrhea, vomiting, excessive blood loss, or high fever.

A fluid imbalance is often associated with imbalances of sodium, potassium (see: hyponatremia, hypokalemia, and hyperkalemia) and other chemicals that help regulate body fluids.

Symptoms

Signs and tests

Treatment

Refer to the treatment section of the specific condition that is causing the fluid imbalance.

Support Groups

Expectations (prognosis)

Complications

Calling your health care provider

Call your health care provider if you or your child have signs of dehydration or swelling, in order to prevent more serious complications.

Prevention

References

Seifter JL. Potassium disorders. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 118.

Verbalis JG. Posterior pituitary. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 243.

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    Review Date: 11/15/2009

    Review By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

    The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2010 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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