One problem with treating electrolyte imbalance is that symptoms may not appear early on at all. When they do, symptoms can be very similar to other exercise-related ailments, including heat stroke and exhaustion, according to Langan.It's important to be able to distinguish the two so you can properly treat them, he said. For example, headaches are a common symptom that can easily be attributed to other conditions. They can also range in severity, so figuring out whether electrolyte imbalance is to blame may involve looking for other symptoms occurring at the same time. Nausea, feeling sick, and vomiting can also indicate an electrolyte imbalance, as well as other exercise-related ailments, Langan said. It can be potentially more serious because vomiting and nausea can make it harder to keep down food or drinks that could resupply the body with electrolytes, potentially exacerbating the problem. In emergency cases, IV electrolytes can be used to help patients recover more quickly, according to the Mayo Clinic. Combined with nausea or headache, feeling dizzy, confused, or foggy after a workout are red flags, Langan said. Similarly, sudden and unexplained changes to mood or mental health suggest something is seriously wrong, and may indicate that the brain is being affected, according to the Cleveland Clinic. A person with hyponatremia may feel tired, lethargic, disoriented, or irritable, which could escalate to more serious symptoms and lasting damage to the brain and other organs. One of the clearest ways to distinguish electrolyte deficiency from other possible ailments is to look for swelling during exercise, according to Langan. Unexplained puffiness to the skin or body can indicate a buildup of fluid — athletes often notice this when their fitness tracker or watch start to feel and look tighter, he said. To verify whether swelling indicates water retention, you can step on a scale to see if you've added any water weight. During a long training session, athletes will typically weigh less than when they started due to sweat. For balanced hydration, athletes may do a sweat test to weigh in before or after, and try to drink enough to compensate for the fluids lost to sweat during training.In the case of hyponatremia, the opposite can occur, and athletes may ending up weighing more than when they started, according to Langan. If so, there's a good chance the athlete is taking in more water than they can use or excrete, causing a buildup and potentially disrupting the proper electrolyte imbalance. You still need to hydrate because it improves performance. It's a hard thing to balance, Langan said. In severe cases, hyponatremia can lead to hospitalization and is potentially life-threatening, with side effects like seizures, muscle cramps, spasms, or weakness, and even loss of consciousness and coma. Symptoms can be more dangerous when they occur quickly, in a period of hours, rather than the course of a day or two, according to the Mayo Clinic. Serious electrolyte issues can be a risk to all the organs but especially the brain, potentially causing permanent brain damage — and trying to treat severe cases too quickly can also be risky, according to research. Potential risk factors like long exercise, underlying health conditions, and certain medications can also influence your risk of hyponatremia.