Relationship Between Salt & Dehydration in the Human Body

Close-up of a salt shaker
Severe dehydration causes an imbalance of sodium in your blood. (Image: Ingram Publishing/Ingram Publishing/Getty Images)

When your body loses more fluid, such as that lost through sweating, than you consume, dehydration results. Many people experience mild dehydration from time to time. However, profound dehydration leads to serious and sometimes critical electrolyte imbalances, including that of sodium. If you are at risk for dehydration and a sodium imbalance, understanding the symptoms and signs of each allows you to seek appropriate medical treatment in a timely manner if necessary.

Causes of Dehydration

In addition to simply not drinking enough water to replace normal body water losses, other causes of dehydration include diarrhea, particularly if you experience excessive diarrhea in a short amount of time, and vomiting. If you experience concurrent diarrhea and vomiting, your risk of dehydration increases. A fever increases your likelihood for developing dehydration. The higher the fever is, the greater your risk for dehydration. Excessive sweating from situations in which you overexert yourself or become overheated--especially if you do not compensate for fluid and electrolyte loss--leads to dehydration. Additionally, dehydration is a potential manifestation of any condition causing you to urinate more than usual. These conditions include the use of diuretic medications, excessive alcohol consumption and uncontrolled diabetes.

Symptoms and Complications of Dehydration

Symptoms of mild to moderate dehydration are increased thirst, headache, lightheadedness, constipation, dry skin and mouth, tiredness and a lack of tears when crying. You may also notice that you are not urinating as much as normal. When mild dehydration progresses, symptoms and complications include severe thirst, lack of sweating, irritability, confusion, sunken eyes and shriveled skin. You may also experience a fever, hypotension, rapid heart rate and respiration, fever and even unconsciousness.

Hypernatremia

Hypernatremia, or a high serum salt level, is almost always a result of dehydration. A healthy blood level of sodium for an adult is between 136 mEq/L and 145 mEq/L. If dehydration causes your sodium level to rise higher than 145 mEq/L, you will likely begin to experience symptoms of hypernatremia. These symptoms include dizziness when changing positions or standing up, fever, excessive sweating, vomiting and diarrhea.

Complications of Hypernatremia

Untreated hypernatremia progresses and results in potentially life-threatening complications. Contact your doctor immediately if you are at risk for dehydration and hypernatremia and notice a loss of appetite that does not improve over time, muscle weakness or frequent vomiting or diarrhea. The same is true if you experience constipation that does not respond to laxatives. Also, notify your doctor if you notice yourself becoming suddenly confused, if your chest hurts or if you have trouble breathing.

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