A lot of attention is given to the role of too much sodium in the diet, but there are low sodium symptoms to be aware of as well. Sodium is one of the three electrolytes in the body, and it is essential that enough sodium be present to balance electrolytes.
Sodium's Role in the Body
Along with potassium and chloride, sodium is one of the body's three essential electrolytes. Sodium serves several important functions in the body including:
- Regulation of the body's fluids
- Regulation of blood pressure and blood volume
- Transmission of nerve impulses
- Regulation of muscular contraction and relaxation
Recommended Daily Allowance of Sodium
In healthy individuals, the USRDA for sodium is between 1200 and 2400 mg; however, in sodium sensitive individuals, the recommendations may be lower. In most cases, eating a variety of healthy foods containing naturally occurring sodium is adequate to prevent low sodium symptoms; however, occasionally the body has higher sodium requirements - such as when electrolytes are lost through excess sweating.
Low Sodium Symptoms
Having a low blood sodium level is referred to as hyponatremia. It typically occurs when too much water is taken in causing lower blood volumes of sodium, or when the body has excreted excess sodium, such as during profuse sweating. Symptoms of low sodium include:
- Muscle twitching which may progress to seizure
- Muscle cramps - which can be quite severe
- Severe low sodium can lead to coma
- Low blood pressure
Causes of Low Sodium
There are some other causes of low sodium other than excess water intake and excessive sodium excretion. In some cases, low sodium can be caused by:
- Kidney disorders
- Adrenal gland disorders such as Addison's disease
- Pituitary gland and hypothalamus disorders
- The presence of certain types of cancer cells in the body
- Abnormal sodium consumption
- Abnormal sodium excretion
- Abnormal water consumption
- Use of dieuretics
- Too many IV fluids
- Excessive beer consumption
- Maintaining a low salt diet for too long
- Severe, prolonged diarrhea or vomiting
- Excessive sweating
- Congestive heart failure
- Cirrhosis of the liver
Diagnosing Low Sodium
In simple cases where a cause such as excessive sweating, diuretic use, or excess water intake are obviously the culprit, the diagnosis of low sodium is a relatively easy one to make. In cases where there is no obvious culprit, low sodium can be diagnosed through a simple blood test. Low sodium is defined as a blood sodium level of lower than 136 mEq/L. If you are experiencing the symptoms of low sodium with no known cause or onset, it is essential that you visit your doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Treating Low Sodium
The treatment of low sodium is dependent largely upon the seriousness/acuteness of the hyponatremia, as well as the cause of the condition. In cases of mild hyponatremia, replacement of electrolytes through consumption of an electrolyte solution (like Gatorade) or taking a salt tablet will suffice to replace lost sodium. As sodium depletion becomes more severe, however, it can become a life-threatening emergency. In these cases, emergency treatment is essential, and usually consists of IV infusion of a 5% sodium chloride solution. Further treatment is dependent upon whether or not there are underlying causes of the low sodium as outlined above. In cases of too much fluid consumption, your physician may recommend something as simple as decreased fluid intake.
In the cases of simple low sodium, the most common recommendations are decreased water consumption and increased salt consumption.
If You Believe You Are Experiencing Low Sodium
If it is a hot day and you have been drinking a lot of water and sweating a great deal, then taking in some salt water or Gatorade may be all you need to do if you are experiencing mild symptoms. If, however, you are experiencing more severe symptoms or can't pinpoint a cause of hyponatremia, then it is best to seek medical attention from a qualified health care professional as soon as you are able to do so.
If You Experience Chronic Low Sodium
- Seek regular blood tests from your health care provider.
- Monitor your blood pressure for extremely low blood pressure.
- Be aware of the symptoms of low sodium and seek attention of you experience them.