Don’t End Up in the ER Like Me

Part I: Don’t End Up in the ER Like Me

-Tessa Mckenzie

After a busy week in the office recently, I couldn’t wait to sweat out my stress in a hot power yoga class. It felt great to practice, but shortly after I left the studio, I nearly passed out in the parking lot. 

Initially I felt nauseous and light-headed, but thought the sensations would pass. As I started to drive home, the scary feelings intensified. When my hands went numb, I pulled over. I had severe vertigo and felt very confused. I called my roommate & BOHO bestie Matthew to rescue me, but he was 10 minutes away. I began to hyperventilate, and my heart raced. Every second was worse than the last, so I called 911. I fainted and came to in the ambulance and was rushed to the emergency room. I felt my body shutting down, 100% sure I was dying. After a series of blood tests and 16 hours on IV, I was magically stabilized and grateful to be alive. 

The doctor diagnosed me with severe heat exhaustion and dehydration due to electrolyte imbalance. He said my body was already dehydrated prior to yoga, but the heat and buckets of sweat finished me off. He reminded me that water alone isn’t the best means to hydration, since water doesn’t have electrolytes. Both are needed—prior to and after an intense workout, especially in the heat. 

My hectic life is fueled by coffee, wine, and sometimes, water. And because my plate is always full, paying attention to how much I drink will have to be a determined choice and priority. To forget is too risky—and it earned me an unaffordable ambulance ride and sleepover in the ER. 

I share this story, not because it’s alarming but to help you avoid a simple mistake whose consequences were enormously dangerous. Drink as I say, not as I do. Bottoms up, BOHO!

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Part II: Balance Your Electrolytes

Electrolytes are essential to hydration, as you learned in Tessa’s latest post. Here Michelle Baer, an instructor and nutrition counselor at BOHO, explains what they’re all about.  

What are electrolytes?  

Electrolytes are minerals that help your body function by, among other things, modulating the amount of water in different compartments of your body and muscle function. Some examples of electrolytes include potassium, sodium, chloride, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorous. 

How can I get them? 

You can find electrolytes in sport drinks like Powerade and Gatorade, but they’re typically high in calories and sugar. Healthier alternatives include coconut water (without added sugar), electrolyte tablets (Nuun), or even fruit like bananas and dates, especially when eaten with water.

Why should I care about electrolytes? 

When we sweat, we loose water and electrolytes. While normal exercise does not necessarily require electrolyte replenishment, it’s a good idea to replenish your electrolytes when you’re doing intense periods of exertion such as a marathon or exercise that causes excessive sweat due to a high temp or exertion (think: intense summer runs or vigorous hot yoga classes). 

What happens if my electrolytes become depleted? 

Your muscles tire more easily when they don’t have enough water, electrolytes, and essential nutrients. Staying hydrated helps you to maintain your strength, power, and aerobic performance. It also helps you function in everyday life without medical side effects. 

How do I know if I’m depleted? 

You’ll generally feel lightheaded, weak, or dizzy, especially when you’re moving from sitting to standing, due to a reduction in overall blood volume. This is a sign that you need more water and potentially electrolytes in your blood. Also, look at your urine. You want it to be the color of lemonade, rather than apple juice. Other signs of depletion include confusion, fatigue, muscle spasms, numbness, seizures, twitching, blood pressure changes, and an irregular heartbeat.