Low blood sodium
Low blood sodium is a condition in which the sodium level in the blood is lower than normal. The medical name of this condition is hyponatremia.
Sodium is found mostly in the body fluids outside the cells. Sodium is an electrolyte (mineral). It is very important for maintaining blood pressure. Sodium is also needed for nerves, muscles, and other body tissues to work properly.
Electrolytes are minerals in your blood and other body fluids that carry an electric charge. Electrolytes affect how your body functions in many ways...Read Article Now Book Mark Article
When the amount of sodium in fluids outside cells drops below normal, water moves into the cells to balance the levels. This causes the cells to swell with too much water. Brain cells are especially sensitive to swelling, and this causes many of the symptoms of low sodium.
With low blood sodium (hyponatremia), the imbalance of water to sodium is caused by one of three conditions:
The imbalance of water to sodium
Every part of your body needs water to function. When you are healthy, your body is able to balance the amount of water that enters or leaves your b...Read Article Now Book Mark Article
- Euvolemic hyponatremia -- total body water increases, but the body's sodium content stays the same
- Hypervolemic hyponatremia -- both sodium and water content in the body increase, but the water gain is greater
- Hypovolemic hyponatremia -- water and sodium are both lost from the body, but the sodium loss is greater
Low blood sodium can be caused by:
- Burns that affect a large area of the body
- Diuretic medicines (water pills), which increase urine output and loss of sodium through the urine
- Heart failure
- Kidney diseases
- Liver cirrhosis
- Syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone secretion (SIADH)
Common symptoms include:
Exams and Tests
The health care provider will perform a complete physical examination and ask about your symptoms. Blood and urine tests will be done.
Lab tests that can confirm and help diagnose low sodium include:
The cause of low sodium must be diagnosed and treated. If cancer is the cause of the condition, then radiation, chemotherapy, or surgery to remove the tumor may correct the sodium imbalance.
The term chemotherapy is used to describe cancer-killing drugs. Chemotherapy may be used to:Cure the cancer Shrink the cancerPrevent the cancer from...Read Article Now Book Mark Article
Other treatments depend on the specific type of hyponatremia.
Treatments may include:
- Fluids through a vein (IV)
- Medicines to relieve symptoms
- Limiting water intake
Outcome depends on the condition that is causing the problem. Low sodium that occurs in less than 48 hours (acute hyponatremia), is more dangerous than low sodium that develops slowly over time. When sodium level falls slowly over days or weeks (chronic hyponatremia), the brain cells have time to adjust and swelling may be minimal.
In severe cases, low sodium can lead to:
- Decreased consciousness, hallucinations or coma
- Brain herniation
When to Contact a Medical Professional
When your body's sodium level drops too much, it can be a life-threatening emergency. Call your provider right away if you have symptoms of this condition.
Treating the condition that is causing low sodium can help.
If you play sports or do other vigorous activity, drink fluids such as sports drinks that contain electrolytes to keep your body's sodium level in a healthy range.
David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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Pasco J. Electrolyte disturbances. In: Cameron P, Little M, Mitra B, Deasy C, eds. Textbook of Adult Emergency Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:section 12.2
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