Carbohydrate and Electrolyte Combination

When combined, carbohydrates, electrolytes, and water form a powerful and fast acting treatment for dehydration which is more effective than water on its own.

Overview:

The combination of carbohydrates and electrolytes is useful for rapidly rehydrating the body. It is commonly used in babies who suffer from intense diarrhea. The advent of sports drinks brought the idea to athletes (professional and amateur alike), who use the potent combination of carbohydrates and electrolytes to stay hydrated during workouts and sports games. The combination is sometimes used by college students to fight off hangovers. As one would expect, most forms of the carbohydrate and electrolyte combination are available over the counter, and can be found anywhere from drug stores to soda machines.

The WHO, among several organizations, maintains a store of carbohydrate and electrolyte combinations in the form of products like N-ORS (New Oral Rehydration Solution). These products are typically utilized and distributed during disease outbreaks, such as cholera epidemics.

The uses of the carbohydrate and electrolyte combination were dragged into consumer consciousness by Gatorade, a sports drink which combined sugars (carbohydrates) and electrolytes. The product was developed in 1965 by the Florida College of Medicine. The drink went on to be popularized by the Florida Gators, the University of Florida’s football team and Gatorade’s namesake.

In addition to sports drinks, the carbohydrate and electrolyte combination is sold under the brand names Ceralyte and Hydralife, among others. In Canada, the carbohydrate and electrolyte solution is sometimes known as Gastrolyte. These brands supply the carbohydrate and electrolyte solution in a variety of ways, including premixed solution, powdered, frozen, and tablet forms.

Conditions treated:

  • Dehydration

Type of Medicine:

  • Minerals and electrolytes

Side effects:

Electrolytes, carbohydrates, and water are the key ingredients in the carbohydrate and electrolyte combination. They are are all naturally occurring products commonly ingested by people. However, when concentrated such as they are, they can be easy to over consume, which can have side effects.

The symptoms of excessive salt (electrolyte) consumption can include:

  • Convulsions
  • Seizures
  • Dizziness
  • Accelerated heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Irritability
  • Muscle aches or twitches
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Swollen extremities
  • Rogue or unusual weakness

Patients who have become dehydrated can easily over consume liquids, which can also cause an adverse effect on the body. Puffy eyelids is the most common symptom of over consuming liquids. Patients will usually begin to experience bloating, distention, or other abdominal/stomach pain simply from the massive amount of fluid stored in the gut. Patients who consume too much liquid, filling their stomach with too much too quickly, will experience bouts of vomiting.

These side effects are largely temporary - the result of temporary over consumption or the body's efforts to adapt to the treatment. That does not necessarily mean that they are safe. Patients who begin to experience symptoms of excessive salt (electrolyte) intake should contact their doctor immediately, especially if they are experiencing convulsions. Patients should consult with their doctor to determine the best way to deal with or mitigate any unpleasant side effects.

This is not necessarily a complete list of side effects. Patients who begin to experience new or different side effects while being treated with the carbohydrate and electrolyte solution should contact their doctor immediately. Patients can report new side effects to the FDA at 1 800 FDA 1088 or at www.fda.gov/medwatch.

Dosage:

There are several forms of the carbohydrate and electrolyte solution which patients may choose to consume, including a Popsicle format. Patients should follow their doctor's advice with respect to how to prepare and consume the carbohydrate and electrolyte solution.

Patients who are directed to consume a commercial powdered form of the carbohydrate and electrolyte solution are usually directed to boil the water they intend to dissolve the liquid in, or otherwise ensure it is sterile. Patients who need to boil their water should ensure that it cools completely before continuing, as the solution as a whole should never be brought to a boiling temperature. After the patient has their sterilized water they should add as much carbohydrate and electrolyte combination solution as directed by their doctor, typically a full packet of the solution. They should then proceed to shake, stir, or otherwise blend the mixture in for 3 to 5 minutes. When this is complete the patient should drink the mixture. Patients who are being treated on a daily basis should usually not make the solution in bulk and parse it out. It is most effective if the patient creates a new mixture each day.

The WHO and other NGOs maintain a store of powdered carbohydrate and electrolyte combination. The packets the solutions comes in are usually larger than the commercial form. As such, they are usually best dissolved into one quart (32 ounces) of liquid. Patients should otherwise follow the directions given above.

For patients under 2 years of age the dose should be set at the discretion of the patient’s doctor. Initial dosage is customarily around 75ml of the carbohydrate and electrolyte solution for every kilogram of body weight every 8 hours. Patients should be careful not to consume (or deliver to their newborn) 100 ml or more of the solution in any given 20 minute period.

In children aged 2 to 10 years, the initial dosage is usually around 50 ml of the solution per kilogram of body weight. This may rise as high as 100 ml per kilogram of body weight as treatment continues. The patient’s doctor should determine what dosage the child receives. Like in infants, children aged 2 to 10 years should not consume more than 100 ml of the carbohydrate and electrolyte solution in any given 20 minute period.

In adults and children over 10 years the starting dose is usually between 50 and 100 ml of the carbohydrate and electrolyte solution, depending on the size of the patient and the severity of the dehydration. Although patients over 10 years old aren’t necessarily warned against consuming more than 100 ml of the carbohydrate and electrolyte solution in any given 20 minute period, patients would do well to moderate their intake of the solution, spreading it out over the course of several hours to allow their bodies to absorb it more fully.

The electrolyte and carbohydrate solution can come in Popsicle form, similar to the freeze pops of frozen juice in long plastic containers. The pops will come unfrozen. The patient can decide whether he or she wants to freeze them and consume them frozen or leave them as a liquid and simply drink the liquid. Regardless of the patient’s choice, they should follow the dosage directions of their doctor, simply using scissors to cut off the top of the plastic container to get at the carbohydrate and electrolyte combination stored within.

When frozen, the pop can be administered as desired. The fact that it is frozen will usually slow delivery to the point that there is little risk of over consuming electrolytes. In children under 1 year old patients should consult their doctor to determine the best dosage scheme.

For treatment of babies and small children, patients should look to their doctor for appropriate dosages. In almost all cases, an adult dose of the carbohydrate and electrolyte solution will be too much for an infant to handle. In most cases, they are best off being fed small spoonfuls of the carbohydrate and electrolyte solution as often as possible during the first 24 hours of their diarrhea.

The dosages and preparation processes described are based on the typical procedures and do not necessarily apply to extraneous situations. Patients should follow their doctor’s directions for proper preparation and dosage consumption of the carbohydrate and electrolyte solution.

Interactions:

Medications, including the carbohydrate and electrolyte combination, can interact with drugs and medical conditions in unique ways which may change the effects of the medications. Patients should disclose a full list of all the medications, drugs, and supplements they are taking to their doctor before they decide whether or not to consume the carbohydrate and electrolyte combination. In addition, patients should ensure their doctor is fully apprised of all medical conditions they may suffer from.

Some medical conditions may make it difficult either to consume or retain and absorb the carbohydrate and electrolyte combination. Patients who have difficulty urinating should inform their doctor immediately, as this may complicate the proper effects of the carbohydrate and electrolyte combination.

Patients who either cannot drink (possibly due to swelling of the throat or other conditions) or who are chronically vomiting may need to receive an intravenous solution.

Patients with serious intestinal blockage should be especially careful when deciding to consume the carbohydrate and electrolyte combination. The combination may be harmful in such patients. Patients with intestinal blockage should consult with their doctor to determine how best to continue.

Alcohol has a dehydrating effect on the body. As a result, patients who are consuming the carbohydrate and electrolyte combination to combat dehydration should not consume alcohol, as it will blunt the effects of the carbohydrate and electrolyte solution.

The carbohydrate and electrolyte solution can interact negatively with a wide range of different medicines. Patients who are taking any of the following medicines should seek out alternatives if they begin to consume the carbohydrate and electrolyte solution. Patients should consult their doctor to determine how best to continue if they must take any of the following medicine and the carbohydrate and electrolyte combination concurrently. Patients should disclose a full list of the medications, drugs, and supplements they are taking to their doctor prior to deciding whether or not to consume the carbohydrate and electrolyte solution.

  • Amantadine
  • Darifenacin
  • Oxybutynin
  • Atropine
  • Dicyclomine
  • Procyclidine
  • Belladonna (nightshade)
  • Eplerenone
  • Scopolamine
  • Belladonna alkaloids
  • Fesoterodine
  • Solifenacin
  • Benztropine
  • Glycopyrrolate
  • Tolterodine
  • Biperiden
  • Hyoscyamine
  • Trihexyphenidyl
  • Clidinium
  • Methscopolamine
  • Trospium

The following list of medications are also inadvisable to take concurrently with the carbohydrate and electrolyte solution. Patients who must take any of the following medications concurrently with the carbohydrate and electrolyte solution should consult with their doctor to determine how best to continue. In most cases a dosage adjustment will be needed. Patients should make sure to disclose the full list of the medications, supplements, and drugs they are taking to their doctor prior to deciding whether or not to consume the carbohydrate and electrolyte combination.

  • Alacepril
  • Gefitinib
  • Phenytoin
  • Amiloride
  • Imidapril
  • Quinapril
  • Amygdalin
  • Indomethacin
  • Quinine
  • Benazepril
  • Ketoconazole
  • Raltegravir
  • Canrenoate
  • Ledipasvir
  • Ramipril
  • Captopril
  • Levomethadyl
  • Rilpivirine
  • Cilazapril
  • Licorice
  • Spirapril
  • Deferoxamine
  • Lisinopril
  • Spironolactone
  • Delapril
  • Mefenamic acid
  • Temocapril
  • Digoxin
  • Moexipril
  • Trandolapril
  • Eltrombopag
  • Mycophenolate mofetil
  • Triamterene
  • Elvitegravir
  • Mycophenolic acid
  • Vismodegib
  • Enalaprilat
  • Pazopanib
  • Zofenopril
  • Enalapril maleate
  • Pentropril
  • Fosinopril
  • Perindopril

This is not necessarily a complete list of interactions. Patients should make sure their doctor is fully apprised of all medications, drugs, and supplements they are taking before they begin consuming the carbohydrate and electrolyte combination.

Warnings:

Patients who are consuming the liquid, mixed version of the carbohydrate and electrolyte solution should limit their intake of salt and other foods which might be rich in salt or electrolytes. Consuming too much salt (electrolytes) can have negative effects.

Patients who are consuming the carbohydrate and electrolyte mixture should stick to consuming water when they are thirsty. Other beverages may dehydrate the body, or interact negatively with the carbohydrate and electrolyte combination.

Serious allergic reactions have occurred as a reaction to the carbohydrate and electrolyte mixture. Patients consuming the carbohydrate and electrolyte combination should be vigilant for signs of an allergic reaction, which can include hives, swelling, and anaphylaxis.

Patients who have allergies to food dyes, animal products, or preservatives should take special care when considering whether or not to consume the carbohydrate and electrolyte solution. When consuming non-prescription forms of the carbohydrate and electrolyte combination, patients should carefully read the food label for allergen warnings.

The carbohydrate and electrolyte combination has not been evaluated in premature infants, and thus cannot be deemed safe. The carbohydrate and electrolyte mixture is safe for most other other demographic groups, including pediatric, geriatric, and breastfeeding patients. Patients should consult with their doctor before consuming the carbohydrate and electrolyte combination, as well as before they administer it to a child or other dependent.

Patients should be aware that the carbohydrate and electrolyte combination is considered a class C drug in terms of pregnancy. This means that it has not yet been fully evaluated for risk to human fetuses. Risk cannot be ruled out. Patients who are pregnant, are trying to become pregnant, or who may become pregnant should consult their doctor before consuming the carbohydrate and electrolyte combination.

Storage:

The carbohydrate and electrolyte solution should be stored out of the reach of children and infants. It should be stored at room temperature and never exposed to extreme heat. Additionally, the carbohydrate and electrolyte combination should be kept out of direct light and out of moisture.

Patients should not store already reconstituted forms of the powder. Fresh solutions should be made daily, as needed.

Summary:

The carbohydrate and electrolyte combination is an extremely forgiving form of treatment, such that it really only carries risk in infants and the acutely dehydrated. For typical, healthy individuals the combination can serve as a performance boost, making it easier to perform grueling workouts or long hikes. In patients who have become moderately dehydrated, as is the case when someone is hungover, the carbohydrate and electrolyte combination can provide much needed relief. In fact, Pedialyte recently began a new marketing campaign aimed at attracting hungover young adults to the product.

It’s easy to underestimate the carbohydrate and electrolyte solution, given its widespread availability and appeal. Patients who are taking it to treat severe dehydration, which is a serious medical concern, should not treat the carbohydrate and electrolyte combination as a sports drink. They should treat it as a medicine, which needs to be delivered precisely and on time.

If patients give the carbohydrate and electrolyte combination the respect it deserves, they should find it an effective and relatively risk free treatment for their dehydration.

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Last Reviewed:
December 23, 2017
Last Updated:
December 22, 2017
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