Electrolytes are minerals that are crucial for neurological function and other biological processes. However, people with ulcerative colitis (UC) may develop an electrolyte imbalance from bouts of inflammation and diarrhea.

Sodium, potassium, phosphate, and magnesium are all electrolytes. The transport of electrolytes primarily happens in the colon, so people with UC, an inflammation of the colon, often have problems with their electrolyte levels.

An electrolyte deficiency can cause various symptoms, including fever, confusion, and abnormal breath sounds.

Doctors treat severe electrolyte imbalances with intravenous (IV) fluid replacement therapy or hydration tablets. However, in more minor cases, a person can adjust the foods and drinks they consume.

Read more to learn about electrolyte imbalances in people with UC, symptoms of an imbalance, common treatment options, and more.

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UC, a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), causes inflammation in the colon. Depending on the severity of a person’s UC, this inflammation can affect either part of or the entire colon. When the condition flares up, a person can experience severe, sometimes bloody, diarrhea.

Inflammation dramatically reduces the absorption of sodium, chloride, and calcium, which can lead to an electrolyte imbalance.

When the colon cannot absorb these minerals, the body treats them as waste products and excretes them in stool fluids.

Although the body struggles to absorb some minerals during a flare, it may release higher amounts of potassium. Researchers believe that this is a response to colon inflammation.

A small 2017 study suggests that potassium has an anti-inflammatory effect on the colon, which could explain why the body pumps more potassium into it during a flare. However, more studies are necessary to confirm this mechanism.

Different electrolyte imbalances result in different symptoms.

However, UC tends to affect sodium, chloride, calcium, and potassium levels disproportionately. Due to this, a person’s symptoms will usually relate to these electrolytes.

Below, we list the symptoms associated with an imbalance in these electrolytes.


People with a sodium deficiency may experience:


People with a chloride imbalance may experience:

  • vomiting
  • weakness
  • diarrhea
  • difficulty breathing


People with a calcium deficiency may experience:


People with a potassium imbalance may experience:

  • muscle weakness
  • difficulty breathing
  • muscle cramps
  • periods of paralysis

A UC flare can cause inflammation in the colon. As the colon can no longer absorb electrolytes and fluids as efficiently, it loses them, causing an imbalance.

Flares are also associated with bouts of diarrhea, which can make dehydration worse.

It is important that people with UC stay hydrated and try to maintain a balance of electrolytes. In severe cases, deficiencies can be life threatening.

People experiencing mild dehydration and an electrolyte imbalance should try to consume fluids and salt in the form of either a beverage or a food. In more severe cases, a doctor will prescribe glucocorticoids. These steroids help the colon absorb sodium and fluid, and they can also reduce a person’s diarrhea.

If a person is severely dehydrated and has lost a lot of electrolytes, a doctor will administer saline solution via IV.

Most people experiencing mild dehydration and an electrolyte imbalance can improve their symptoms using home remedies. However, people with UC may wish to contact a doctor to discuss the best course of treatment in these circumstances.

People can try several options:

Homemade oral rehydration solution

An oral rehydration solution (ORS) can replenish lost fluid, sugar, and salt. Although people can purchase ORS products over the counter (OTC), it is easy to make them at home.

A person just needs to combine the following ingredients:

  • up to 1 liter, or 33.8 ounces (oz), of water
  • 6 teaspoons, or 20 grams (g), of sugar
  • 1 heaped teaspoon of baking soda (2.5 g)
  • 1 teaspoon of table salt (3.5 g)

Store-bought rehydration drinks

People can remedy mild or moderate dehydration by drinking a store-bought rehydration beverage. Some available OTC options include:

  • Pedialyte
  • Hydralyte
  • O.R.S hydration tablets
  • Dioralyte
  • Electrolade

Drink and a snack

Crohn’s & Colitis UK recommends that people have a drink and snack for short-term relief. They could have, for example, a glass of water, a flat soda, or a still, naturally sweetened beverage in combination with a salty, easily digested snack, such as salted potato chips.

However, people should avoid artificial sweeteners and carbonated beverages, as these can worsen UC flares.

Certain foods and drinks can aggravate the colon, making UC symptoms worse.

According to a 2017 meta-analysis, researchers have linked soft drink consumption with a higher risk of UC. This relationship was particularly strong in soft drinks that were high in sugar, such as soda.

People with UC may want to limit their intake of soda if it makes their symptoms worse.

Learn more about foods and drinks to avoid with UC.

During a flare, people can prevent severe dehydration by tracking their fluid consumption.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that males should drink 125 oz of water per day, and females should drink 91 oz.

A person with UC may benefit from consuming more than this because the condition prevents the colon from absorbing fluid as efficiently as it normally would. If the individual is experiencing diarrhea, they should also increase their fluid intake.

Anyone experiencing abdominal discomfort may find it helpful to sip drinks slowly rather than drinking large quantities all at once.

When a person is experiencing a UC flare, they should decrease their intake of foods that promote bowel movements. These foods will likely include high fiber foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, and caffeinated drinks, such as coffee and black tea.

Eating small and frequent meals may reduce discomfort, as well as helping a person maintain a healthy level of nutrition and a good electrolyte balance.

Learn more about what foods to eat with UC.

Electrolytes are minerals that are responsible for maintaining life sustaining biological processes. As most mineral absorption occurs in the colon, people having a UC flare may experience low levels of important electrolytes.

To help prevent or minimize electrolyte loss, a person should ensure that they remain hydrated and eat small but nutritious meals. They can also drink a rehydration beverage to replenish their levels of fluid, salt, and sugar.

In cases of severe or life threatening dehydration, a doctor will administer an IV electrolyte solution.