You may have heard of electrolytes and the role they play in keeping you hydrated and healthy.
One of the most important of these electrically charged minerals is chloride. It works with other electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium, to help balance acids and bases in your body.
It also helps move fluid in and out of your cells. So if your chloride levels drop, you can become sick and dehydrated. If your levels are too high, it often means your kidneys aren’t working properly.
There is a simple blood test to measure your chloride levels. The results can tell if your levels are good or if they are out of balance. This will help your doctor figure out where to look for the condition or medication that might be causing your imbalance.
Why Do I Need This Test?
You might hear this also called a “Cl test” or a “serum chloride test.”
If you’re having symptoms such as weakness, constant tiredness, or dehydration, your doctor may order a chloride test.
Preparing for the Test
The amount of fluids you drink before the test may affect the results, so ask your doctor whether you should change anything about your fluid intake. Vomiting or diarrhea in the days before the test may lead to a lower chloride result.
You should also tell your doctor all the prescription and over-the-counter medications you take, as well as any vitamins or supplements.
Some medications that may increase chloride levels include:
- Cortisone (used to ease pain and inflammation)
- Ammonium chloride (used to treat people with low chloride in the blood and a condition called metabolic alkalosis)
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve)
What Happens During the Test?
You will usually have a blood sample taken at your doctor’s office or a lab. Chloride levels also can be checked with a urine test.
A lab tech will insert a needle into a vein in your arm to get the sample. Your arm may be a little sore where the blood was drawn. Some people become lightheaded for a few moments.
What Do My Results Mean?
You should be able to get the results of your test within a few days. It may be sooner if your doctor has ordered that the results be checked at once.
The normal range for chloride in your blood is between 96 and 106 milliequivalents per liter (MEq/L). Some labs may vary in their definition of the normal range.
Talk with your doctor about your test results, especially if you’re outside the healthy range. Chloride levels tend to change if your sodium levels change, too.
Chloride levels above 106 could point to kidney problems, such as renal tubular acidosis (when your kidneys aren’t removing enough acids from your blood and into your urine).
Low levels have several other possible causes, including common, temporary problems such as vomiting and dehydration. Among the more serious causes are:
- Congestive heart failure (when your heart muscle is weakened and can’t pump blood to your body as it should)
- Addison’s disease (when your adrenal glands don’t make enough of certain hormones)
- Metabolic alkalosis (low potassium and chloride in the blood)
- Hyperaldosteronism (a condition that can cause high blood pressure and weakness)
- Chronic (ongoing) lung disease
Testing the chloride levels in your blood or urine is practically painless and takes little time. The information it gives your doctor can help you avoid some painful and serious health problems down the road.