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Hyponatremia

Hyponatremia is a metabolic condition in which there is not enough sodium (salt) in the body fluids outside the cells.

  • Alternative Names

    Dilutional hyponatremia; Euvolemic hyponatremia; Hypervolemic hyponatremia; Hypovolemic hyponatremia

  • Causes, incidence, and risk factors

    Sodium is found mostly in body fluids outside the cells. It is very important for maintaining blood pressure. Sodium is also needed for nerves and muscles to work properly.

    When the amount of sodium in fluids outside cells drops, water moves into the cells to balance the levels. This causes the cells to swell with too much water. Although most cells can handle this swelling, brain cells cannot, because the skull bones confine them. Brain swelling causes most of the symptoms of hyponatremia.

    In hyponatremia, the imbalance of water to salt is caused by one of three conditions:

    • Euvolemic hyponatremia -- total body water increases, but the sodium content remains the same
    • Hypervolemic hyponatremia -- both sodium and water content in the body increase, but water gain is greater
    • Hypovolemic hyponatremia -- water and sodium are both lost from the body, but the sodium loss is greater

    Hyponatremia is the most common electrolyte disorder in the United States.

    Causes of hyponatremia include:

  • Symptoms

    Common symptoms include:

  • Signs and tests

    The health care provider will perform a complete physical examination to help determine the cause of your symptoms. Blood and urine tests will be done.

    The following laboratory tests can confirm hyponatremia:

  • Treatment

    The cause of hyponatremia must be diagnosed and treated. In some cases, cancer may cause the condition, and radiation, chemotherapy, or surgery to remove the tumor may correct the sodium imbalance.

    Other treatments depend on the specific type of hyponatremia.

    Treatments may include:

    • Fluids through a vein (IV)
    • Medication to relieve symptoms
    • Water restriction
  • Expectations (prognosis)

    The outcome depends on the condition that is causing the problem. In general, acute hyponatremia, which occurs in less than 48 hours, is more dangerous. When sodium levels fall slowly over a period of days or weeks (chronic hyponatremia), the brain cells have time to adjust and swelling is minimal.

  • Complications
  • Calling your health care provider

    Hyponatremia can be a life-threatening emergency. Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of this condition.

  • Prevention

    Treating the condition that is causing hyponatremia can help. If you play any demanding sports, drink fluids that contain electrolytes (“sports drinks”). Drinking only water while you take part in high-energy athletic events can lead to acute hyponatremia.

  • References

    Skorecki K, Ausiello D. Disorders of sodium and water homeostasis. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 117.

Review Date: 11/6/2009

Reviewed By: A.D.A.M. Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Greg Juhn, MTPW, David R. Eltz. Previously reviewed by David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine (8/3/2009).

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2014 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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