Hyponatremia is a type of medical condition known as as an electrolyte imbalance in which the sodium levels of the blood are lower than normal. An electrolyte is a substance found in the blood that has the ability to conduct electricity, assisting in the proper functioning of cells and organs of the body. Sodium is the electrolyte responsible for the regulation of the amount of water in the body, and an extreme sodium imbalance can be fatal if left untreated. Common symptoms of hyponatremia include headache, nausea, and muscle weakness. The most common hyponatremia causes include too much fluid consumption, kidney problems, and dehydration.
Excess fluid consumption is one of the leading hyponatremia causes among athletes. Many times, an athlete will drink a lot of water when planning long-term endurance activities such as running in a marathon. This excess water consumption can dilute the amount of sodium in the blood, causing hyponatremia. The person may experience seizures, become confused, or even lose consciousness. To avoid this problem, the athlete should use salted sports drinks instead of plain water or increase the intake of salty foods.
Kidney problems, particularly kidney disease or kidney failure, is another one of the leading hyponatremia causes. The kidneys are responsible for flushing excess water and waste materials from the body. If the kidneys are not functioning properly, excess fluids can accumulate in the body, causing sodium levels to be diluted and hyponatremia to develop. Salt and fluid restrictions may be recommended by a doctor if the kidneys are not functioning normally.
Dehydration is another of the leading hyponatremia causes. Dehydration occurs when there is not enough water in the body and can occur from excess sweating, vomiting, or diarrhea. It is important to drink plenty of fluids, even if the patient is sick from a viral or bacterial infection that causes vomiting or diarrhea or when exercising. Sports drinks that work to replenish electrolytes may be a better choice than water in these instances.
Treatment options for low sodium levels depend on the hyponatremia causes. Lifestyle changes such as altering the diet or amount or type of fluids consumed can often help to avoid the problem altogether. There are some medications available to treat hyponatremia, with some being taken at home and some being delivered by medical professionals. In extreme cases of hyponatremia, hospitalization may be required in order to restore proper electrolyte balance to the body.