Hyponatremia is a condition in which the level of sodium in your blood is too low. Untreated, it can cause neurological symptoms, brain damage and even death.
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The treatment for hyponatremia is to raise blood sodium levels, but the method for doing this depends on the underlying cause of the low sodium level and the severity of your symptoms.
What Is Acute Hyponatremia?
Hyponatremia is considered acute if the sodium level in the blood drops quickly, according to the Mayo Clinic. Acute hyponatremia can cause serious neurological damage or death. You should seek care at the emergency room if you develop severe symptoms of hyponatremia, which include nausea and vomiting, confusion, seizures or loss of consciousness.
Severe, acute hyponatremia is a life-threatening emergency that usually requires treatment and monitoring in the hospital. Patients may be given a sodium solution intravenously — through a needle in a vein — and their water intake will be restricted in order to raise their blood sodium concentration and restore normal sodium levels.
How to Prevent Hyponatremia
Some cases of acute hyponatremia are caused when people lose water and salt through vomiting, diarrhea or excessive sweating, and then drink a lot of water but do not adequately replace the lost salt, per the Cleveland Clinic. The result is that the water dilutes the little remaining sodium in their body, leading to potentially life-threatening hyponatremia.
Such cases can be prevented by ensuring proper sodium intake when replacing lost fluids. For example, it's important for athletes sweating excessively to drink sports beverages that contain sodium and other electrolytes (or consume sodium in other forms) in addition to staying well-hydrated by drinking enough water.
"If you're exerting yourself on a hot day and you're sweating a lot, you'll want to have water with some electrolyte in it," says Daniel Weiner, MD, FASN, an associate professor at Tufts University School of Medicine and a member of the American Society of Nephrology's Quality Committee.
When it comes to chronic hyponatremia, which develops more gradually than acute hyponatremia, the treatment depends upon the underlying cause of low sodium levels.
Low sodium levels in the blood can result from taking certain medications, including diuretics and antidepressant medications, according to the Mayo Clinic. If that is case, your health care provider may recommend stopping your medication or adjusting your dosage.
Hyponatremia can also be caused by a range of health problems, including thyroid, adrenal or kidney disease, and may improve when the underlying condition is treated. Reducing your water intake may also be advised.
If a medication or underlying health problem is not the culprit, your health care provider will likely ask about your water drinking habits. "If they're drinking 6, 7, 8 liters of water, they just may be drinking more than they're able to excrete," says Dr. Weiner. Drinking less water will prevent the sodium from being diluted, resulting in a higher concentration of sodium in your blood.
According to Dr. Weiner, in the vast majority of cases, low sodium levels are not caused by getting too little salt in your diet, and your health care provider will rarely recommend increasing your sodium intake to address it. However, if you have syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone (SIADH), which causes your body to retain too much water, you may be advised to consume more foods high in sodium or add more table salt to your meals.
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.