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What Do High Sodium Levels Mean?

by
author image Adam Cloe
Adam Cloe has been published in various scientific journals, including the "Journal of Biochemistry." He is currently a pathology resident at the University of Chicago. Cloe holds a Bachelor of Arts in biochemistry from Boston University, a M.D. from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in pathology from the University of Chicago.
What Do High Sodium Levels Mean?
Coarse salt on a wooden table. Photo Credit HandmadePictures/iStock/Getty Images

Sodium is an important mineral for the body because it is an electrolyte, which means that it has an electrical charge when dissolved in water. Unusually high levels of sodium in your body can raise your blood pressure and result in a condition known as hypernatremia, resulting in cellular dysfunction.

Sodium and Blood Pressure

High sodium intake can raise your blood pressure, Family Doctor notes. When you consume too much sodium, your body compensates by retaining extra water to try to dilute the elevated sodium concentration in your blood. This retained water increases the volume of your blood, which in turns causes an increase in blood pressure. Increased blood pressure increases the strain put on your heart and can lead to kidney damage and atherosclerosis.

Hypernatremia Symptoms

If your body cannot compensate for the increased sodium levels in your blood, hypernatremia results. Your cells control their electrical charge by regulating the amounts of sodium both inside and outside the cells. High blood sodium can disrupt this electrical charge. This is most problematic for muscle and nerve cells because these cells are particularly sensitive to changes in their electrical charges. Hypernatremia can cause fatigue, lethargy and confusion, the The Merck Manuals Online Medical Library explains. Increased neuromuscular excitability and hyperactive reflexes may also result.

Causes

Hypernatremia can be caused by loss of fluid, which can result from extreme sweating, vomiting and diarrhea, the Nephrology Channel notes, if the loss of fluid is not matched with an equal loss of sodium. If you do not drink enough water, your blood sodium levels will also rise. This is especially problematic if you also have high sodium intake, although this form of hypernatremia typically develops over an extended period of time.

Treatment

Treating hypernatremia hinges on lowering blood sodium levels. This can be accomplished by drinking water, which will allow the body to dilute the excess sodium. For this treatment to work in the long term, sodium intake must also be reduced. In extreme cases, intravenous fluids need to be administered, although rapid decreases in blood sodium levels can damage nerve cells. Some medications, such as loop diuretics, may also be effective because they increase sodium excretion by the kidneys.

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