Low sodium levels, or hyponatremia, may indicate or cause different health disorders that may range from mild to very severe.
Causes of low sodium levels
Low sodium levels lead to an increase of water in the body and to swelling of the cells. Many different factors are believed to cause low sodium levels. Those can include medical disorders and conditions like Addison’s disease, which affects cortex of the adrenal gland, hypothyroidism, primary polydipsia, which means excessive thirst and need for water, diarrhea, vomiting, cirrhosis, kidney problems, and congestive heart failure.
Furthermore, low sodium levels can be caused by diuretics, medications like antidepressants and pain killers, a diet low in sodium and high in water, but also by drinking too much water during exercise.
Symptoms of low sodium
Low sodium levels in the blood may start with nausea and vomiting. Low sodium levels affect the brain functions so a person may feel dizzy, disoriented and confused. There may also be headache, fatigue lethargy, irritability and loss of appetite. The patient may suffer from involuntary muscle twitches and spasms, cramps, weakness and seizures.
Other symptoms may include unconsciousness, fainting and even coma.
The problem with low sodium levels is that their symptoms often mimic the symptoms of other disorders so it is not likely that the patient him or herself will suspect that the problem lies in sodium levels. Doctors, however, are well aware of this and especially if they hear about lifestyle and dietary habits of the patient they can easily guess what the problem is and order the appropriate tests.
Treatment for low sodium
In mild cases, the doctors usually give simple instructions as to how to increase sodium levels in the blood. Those instructions mostly refer to the cause of low sodium levels, so if the cause was excessive use of diuretics or water, the advice will be to cut back on those two.
In more severe cases, hospitalization may be required, at least overnight, during which time the patient will probably receive sodium intravenously. There are also certain medications that aim to elevate sodium levels. In case low sodium levels were caused by a disorder, for example Addison’s disease, the treatment will focus on that particular disorder.
Problems with low sodium in the blood can be prevented. This means having a balanced diet, drinking sufficient water but not in excessive amounts, not abusing diuretics, drinking sport drinks with electrolytes during exercise, instead of just drinking too much water, and having regular check-ups at the doctor’s.