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Magnesium along with potassium is a major intracellular cation. Magnesium is a cofactor of many enzyme systems. All adenosine triphosphate (ATP)-dependent enzymatic reactions require magnesium as a cofactor. Approximately 70% of magnesium ions are stored in bone. The remainder is involved in intermediary metabolic processes; about 70% is present in free form while the other 30% is bound to proteins (especially albumin), citrates, phosphate, and other complex formers. The serum magnesium level is kept constant within very narrow limits. Regulation takes place mainly via the kidneys, primarily via the ascending loop of Henle.
Conditions that interfere with glomerular filtration result in retention of magnesium and hence elevation of serum concentrations. Hypermagnesemia is found in acute and chronic renal failure, magnesium overload, and magnesium release from the intracellular space. Mild-to-moderate hypermagnesemia may prolong atrioventricular conduction time. Magnesium toxicity may result in central nervous system (CNS) depression, cardiac arrest, and respiratory arrest.
Numerous studies have shown a correlation between magnesium deficiency and changes in calcium-, potassium-, and phosphate-homeostasis which are associated with cardiac disorders such as ventricular arrhythmias that cannot be treated by conventional therapy, increased sensitivity to digoxin, coronary artery spasms, and sudden death. Additional concurrent symptoms include neuromuscular and neuropsychiatric disorders. Conditions that have been associated with hypomagnesemia include chronic alcoholism, childhood malnutrition, lactation, malabsorption, acute pancreatitis, hypothyroidism, chronic glomerulonephritis, aldosteronism, and prolonged intravenous feeding.
Magnesium levels may be used to monitor preeclampsia patients being treated with magnesium sulfate, although in most cases monitoring clinical signs (respiratory rate and deep tendon reflexes) is adequate and blood magnesium levels are not required.
Symptoms of magnesium deficiency do not typically appear until levels are < or =1.0 mg/dL. Levels > or =9.0 mg/dL may be life-threatening.
Serum or plasma magnesium concentration provides only an approximate guide to the presence or absence of magnesium deficiency. Hypomagnesemia reliably indicates magnesium deficiency, but its absence does not exclude significant magnesium depletion. The concentration of magnesium in serum has not been shown to correlate with any other tissue pools of magnesium except interstitial fluid.
0-2 years: 1.6-2.7 mg/dL
3-5 years: 1.6-2.6 mg/dL
6-8 years: 1.6-2.5 mg/dL
9-11 years: 1.6-2.4 mg/dL
12-17 years: 1.6-2.3 mg/dL
>17 years: 1.7-2.3 mg/dL
1. Tietz Textbook of Clinical Chemistry. Fourth edition. Edited by CA Burtis, ER Ashwood, DE Bruns. Philadelphia, WB Saunders Company, 2006, chapter 49, pp 1893-1912
2. Ryan MF: The role of magnesium in clinical biochemistry: an overview. Ann Clin Biochem 1991;28:19-26