Low Sodium in Blood (Hyponatremia): Definition, Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

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Low Sodium in BloodWhile many of us are trying to reduce the amount of sodium we ingest, there are some people who need to boost their intake. Low sodium in blood is medically referred to as hyponatremia and can lead to serious consequences if left untreated. As we need sodium for proper functioning, it is important to understand what causes low levels and to be aware of hyponatremia symptoms.

We need sodium to help maintain blood pressure, regulate fluids, and aid in the function of our nerves and muscles. The official hyponatremia definition is the lack of sodium in the blood necessary to regulate the water used by our cells. Once the sodium level drops, our cells expand from the abundance of water present in the blood. This can cause mild symptoms of nausea and headaches and eventually lead to rapid brain swelling and death.

A normal sodium level is between 135 to 145 milliequivalents per liter (mEq/L). Hyponatremia is present when levels drop below 135 mEq/L. We will next investigate hyponatremia causes.

What Causes Low Sodium in Blood?

Hyponatremia causes can be linked to direct and indirect factors. As our blood sodium levels drop, it is important to take note of recent lifestyle changes, any existing or new health conditions, and possible effects of prescribed medication.

1. Excess Water Intake

The sodium levels in our blood become depleted as we sweat, and we may overcompensate by drinking too much water. Strenuous exercise such as running can cause us to sweat profusely and replenishing with water may dilute our sodium content.

2. Dehydration

On the flip side, we can easily become dehydrated by not drinking sufficient amounts of water. This stage causes us to lose electrolytes such as sodium and other fluids.

3. Hormonal Changes

Health conditions affecting our hormone balance can also cause hyponatremia. Our adrenal glands produce hormones to help balance the water, sodium, and potassium levels. Low functioning adrenal glands and an underactive thyroid will cause sodium levels to drop.

4. Drugs

Over-the-counter and prescribed medications may have an adverse effect on the sodium levels in our blood. These can include antidepressants, pain relievers, and diuretics. The recreational drug known as ecstasy can lead to a rapid drop in sodium levels that may result in death.

5. Severe Diarrhea or Vomiting

We may lose valuable nutrients, electrolytes, and fluids through severe bouts of diarrhea and vomiting.

6. Chronic Illness

Certain health conditions can create an environment within our body where fluid retention is a major factor. The buildup of water will quickly lower sodium blood levels. This can include heart, liver, and kidney disease.

7. Syndrome of Inappropriate Antidiuretic Hormone (SIADH)

SIADH leads the body to produce the antidiuretic hormone, also known as vasopressin, in excess. The resulting water retention can cause sodium levels to decrease.

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Hyponatremia

There are several symptoms that indicate the sodium levels in your blood have dropped too low. Initial stages of low levels may not present any symptoms unless they drop rapidly.

  • Headache
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Irritability
  • Cramping or muscle spasms
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Coma

If you seek medical advice for any of these symptoms, you can expect a thorough examination by your physician. Based on your symptoms, the physical examination, and details of your medical history, you may be required to undergo a series of tests. A diagnosis of hyponatremia may result from an osmolality (chemical) blood test, a urine osmolality, a comprehensive metabolic panel, or a urine sodium test.

How to Increase Sodium Levels

Hyponatremia treatment starts with increasing sodium levels in the blood as determined by the cause. Under a doctor’s care, or as an existing hospital patient, you may receive a prescribed dose of diuretics, a sodium solution through intravenous injection or pill form, for the symptoms.

There are some suggestions for low sodium treatment at home, which also may help to prevent levels from dropping.

1. Sodium-Infused Juices

Drinks enriched with sodium such as vegetable juices can boost your blood sodium levels. An eight-ounce glass of the popular V8 brand may contain up to 500 milligrams of sodium, so be mindful of your daily intake. You can balance sodium levels with a low-sodium vegetable juice if in need of a smaller boost.

2. Maintain Adrenal Glands Production

You can keep your adrenal glands working properly by maintaining a healthy diet that includes fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, coconut products, seaweed, and foods enriched in B vitamins. Our adrenal glands also need appropriate sleep, rest, and exercise to produce sufficient hormones to balance the electrolyte levels.

3. Replenish Electrolytes

Not just for athletes, sports drinks can help to replenish sodium levels, especially after a strenuous workout or run. The best sports drinks will have 100 milligrams of sodium, 14 grams of carbohydrates, and 28 milligrams of potassium in an eight-ounce serving.

4. Limit Certain Drinks

When looking for high-sodium drinks to increase levels, limit beverages that do not have any nutritional benefit. Drinks such as hot chocolate, flavored coffees, and fruit juices may have high sodium content but do not offer essential nutrients.

A low sodium in blood level can lead to scary outcomes if ignored. Although the American Heart Association estimates 97% of Americans consume too much sodium, hyponatremia is a common condition. We rely on sodium for the proper functioning of many organs, including our skin cells. Blood sodium levels can drop gradually or rapidly, depending on the underlying cause. Symptoms and the condition of hyponatremia may be treated and possibly prevented with lifestyle choices and remedies.

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