While most Americans eat more sodium then they need, there are situations and medical conditions that can make your sodium levels drop too low. Since a level of sodium either too high or too low can cause health problems, it is best to talk to your physician before taking supplements to prevent complications.
Low Sodium Levels
Hyponatremia, or a low sodium level, is diagnosed when there is not enough sodium or salt in the body fluids outside the cells. Your body needs some sodium to maintain blood pressure and for the muscle and nerves to work properly. A low level of sodium can occur if you drink excessive amounts of water which upsets the balance. This sodium and water balance can be affected by burns, heart disease, certain medications, illnesses that cause vomiting or diarrhea, kidney and liver disease and other underlying medical conditions. The first step in treatment is to identify the underlying cause.
Low sodium levels that are caused by diet, drinking too much water or as a side effect of a medication can usually be corrected by adjusting your medications and reducing fluid intake. If your hyponatremia is severe you may need to be hospitalized and given a sodium solution through an IV, and your doctor may prescribe medications to manage any symptoms you are having. If your low sodium level is due to an underlying disease, treating that condition is essential to restore the proper balance.
When the level of sodium in the blood gets too low, the sodium that is in the body may move into the cells and cause them to swell. If left untreated this can lead to organ damage and death especially if the cells within the brain swell. Given the seriousness of this condition, it is vital to seek medical care.
If your symptoms are mild, reducing water intake is the preferred method of treatment, notes the American Academy of Family Physicians. In some cases your doctor may recommend increasing your salt intake through diet or supplementation. However, caution should be taken as too much sodium in the blood can be just as dangerous.
Taking salt tablets may cause you to feel very thirsty which could lead to drinking too much water. A slow and steady intake of salty foods plus reducing water intake is a better bet, according to Rice University. However, if your low sodium level is chronic, your physician can advise you on the best salt supplement and how much is safe to take.
If your hyponatremia is due to diet or water intake and/or you are an endurance athlete who exercises vigorously for hours, you may benefit from eating salty foods or drinking sports drinks that contain electrolytes, However, nausea, muscle cramps, disorientation, slurred speech, confusion, seizures or unconsciousness signal a true medical emergency.