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At a Glance
Why Get Tested?

To determine if there is a problem with your body's electrolyte or acid-base balance and to monitor treatment

When To Get Tested?

As part of a standard electrolyte panel or metabolic panel or if your doctor thinks that you have an electrolyte imbalance

Sample Required?

A blood sample drawn from a vein in the arm; sometimes a random or 24-hour urine sample

What is being tested?

Chloride is an electrolyte, a negatively charged molecule that works with other electrolytes, such as potassium, sodium, and bicarbonate (sometimes measured as total carbon dioxide [CO2]), to help regulate the amount of fluid in the body and maintain the acid-base balance. Chloride is present in all body fluids but is found in the highest concentration in the blood and in the fluid outside of the body’s cells. Most of the time, chloride concentrations mirror those of sodium, increasing and decreasing for the same reasons and in direct relationship to sodium. When there is an acid-base imbalance, however, blood chloride levels can change independently of sodium levels as chloride acts as a buffer. It helps to maintain electrical neutrality at the cellular level by moving into or out of the cells as needed.

Chloride is taken into the body through food and table salt, which is made up of sodium and chloride molecules. Most of the chloride is absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract, and the excess is excreted in urine. The normal blood level remains steady, with a slight drop after meals (because the stomach produces acid after eating, using chloride from blood).

How is the sample collected for testing?

A blood sample is taken by needle from the arm. Chloride can also be measured in a random or 24-hour urine sample.

Is any test preparation needed to ensure the quality of the sample?

No test preparation is needed.

Accordion Title
Common Questions
  • How is it used?

    Blood chloride testing is often ordered, along with other electrolytes, as part of a regular physical to screen for a variety of conditions. These tests may also be ordered to help diagnose the cause of signs and symptoms such as prolonged vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, and respiratory distress. If an electrolyte imbalance is detected, the doctor will look for and address the disease, condition, or medication causing the imbalance and may order electrolyte testing at regular intervals to monitor the effectiveness of treatment. If an acid-base imbalance is suspected, the doctor may also order blood gas tests to further evaluate the severity and cause of the imbalance.

    In persons with too much base, urine chloride measurements can tell the doctor whether the cause is loss of salt (in cases of dehydration, vomiting, or use of diuretics, where urine chloride would be very low) or an excess of certain hormones such as cortisol or aldosterone (where urine chloride would be high). Urine tests for chloride are also used, along with sodium, to monitor persons put on a low-salt diet. If sodium and chloride levels are high, the doctor knows that the patient is not following the diet.

  • When is it ordered?

    The blood chloride test is almost never ordered by itself. It is usually ordered as part of an electrolyte panel, a basic metabolic panel, or a comprehensive metabolic panel, which are ordered frequently as part of a routine physical. Chloride may be ordered when acidosis or alkalosis is suspected or you have an acute condition with symptoms that may include the following:

    • Prolonged vomiting and/or diarrhea
    • Weakness, fatigue
    • Respiratory distress

    Some of these tests may be ordered at regular intervals when a patient has a disease or condition or is taking a medication that can cause an electrolyte imbalance. Electrolyte panels or basic metabolic panels are commonly used to monitor treatment of certain problems, including high blood pressure (hypertension), heart failure, and liver and kidney disease.

    A urine chloride test may be performed along with a blood or urine sodium when evaluating the cause of low or high blood chloride levels. The doctor will look at whether the chloride measurement changes mirror those of the sodium. This helps the doctor determine if there is also an acid-base imbalance and helps to guide treatment.

  • What does the test result mean?

    Increased levels of blood chloride (called hyperchloremia) usually indicate dehydration, but can also occur with other problems that cause high blood sodium, such as Cushing's syndrome or kidney disease. Hyperchloremia also occurs when too much base is lost from the body (producing metabolic acidosis) or when a person hyperventilates (causing respiratory alkalosis).

    Decreased levels of blood chloride (called hypochloremia) occur with any disorder that causes low blood sodium. Hypochloremia also occurs with prolonged vomiting or gastric suction, emphysema or other chronic lung diseases (causing respiratory acidosis), and with loss of acid from the body (called metabolic alkalosis).

  • Is there anything else I should know?

    Drugs that affect sodium blood levels will also cause changes in chloride. In addition, swallowing large amounts of baking soda or substantially more than the recommended dosage of antacids can also cause low chloride.

  • Existe alguma recomendação alimentar para o cloreto?

    Sim. A Food and Nutrition Board do Instituto de Medicina dos Estados Unidos recomenda que adolescentes e adultos com idade entre 14 e 50 anos consumam 2,3 g/dia. As recomendações variam de acordo com a idade, sexo e outros fatores. Por exemplo, gestantes e lactantes precisam de maiores quantidades, enquanto crianças e adultos mais velhos precisam de quantidades menores. O cloreto está prontamente disponível nos alimentos e a maioria dos americanos, provavelmente, consome mais do que o necessário, na forma de sal de mesa e no sal dos alimentos industrializados. É também encontrado em muitos vegetais e alimentos como algas, centeio, tomate, alface, aipo e azeitonas.

View Sources

Sources Used in Current Review
Hurd, R. (Updated April 26, 2007). MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: Serum Chloride. Available online at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003485.htm. Accessed July 2008.

Mushnick, R. (Updated October 22, 2007.) MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: Chloride—urine. Available online at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003601.htm. Accessed July 2008.

Clarke, W and Dufour D R, Editors (2006). Contemporary Practice in Clinical Chemistry. AACC Press, Washington, DC. Pp 321-322, 326.

Pagana K, Pagana T. Mosby's Manual of Diagnostic and Laboratory Tests. 3rd Edition, St. Louis: Mosby Elsevier; 2006. Pp 165-167.

MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: Chloride in diet. Available online at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002417.htm. Accessed July 2009.

Sources Used in Previous Reviews
Thomas, Clayton L., Editor (1997). Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary. F.A. Davis Company, Philadelphia, PA [18th Edition].

Pagana, Kathleen D. & Pagana, Timothy J. (2001). Mosby’s Diagnostic and Laboratory Test Reference 5th Edition: Mosby, Inc., Saint Louis, MO.

(1995-2004). Minerals and Electrolytes. The Merck Manual of Medical Information – Second Home Edition [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.merck.com/mmhe/sec12/ch155/ch155a.html?qt=electrolytes&alt=sh through http://www.merck.com.

Ben-Joseph, E., Reviewed (2004 July). Dehydration. Familydoctor.org Information for Parents [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.kidshealth.org/PageManager.jsp?dn=familydoctor&lic=44&article_set=21646 through http://www.kidshealth.org.

A.D.A.M. editorial, Updated (2003 October 15). Electrolytes. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002350.htm.