What Does Low Sodium Mean?

When you get your result of blood test and find yourself low in sodium, you may wonder "what does low sodium mean". Life processes are chemical reactions and sodium helps complete those processes because it is the most positively charged ion in your body's fluids and tissues. Those life processes take place at the cellular level, and without sodium, processes in your muscle and nerve cells may fail to complete. Sodium also affects your body's ability to retain water. When the sodium level is low, your body fails to maintain a balance of electrolytes and water. Why does it happen? Can it be dangerous? Let's find out now.

What Does Low Sodium Mean in Blood Test?

When your blood test shows that you have lower levels of sodium, it means you have hyponatremia. Ideally, your sodium level should be between 135 mEq/L and 145 mEq/L. You develop hyponatremia when your sodium level is below 135 mEq/L.

Without enough sodium, it is not possible for your body to maintain the balance of water in and around your cells. Sodium is vital for proper nerve and muscle function. And it helps regulate your blood pressure.

Can It Be a Health Concern?

Yes, you may experience health issues, especially when you have acute hyponatremia in which sodium levels go down quickly. In case of chronic hyponatremia, the levels of sodium in your body drop gradually.

Low sodium levels may make neurologic changes in your body. In case of a severe or acute hyponatremia, you may develop cerebral edema, in which fluid accumulates in the brain and causes swelling. This buildup of excess water puts pressure on the walls of your skull and leads to swelling, which in turn affects brain function significantly. Cerebral edema is probably the biggest concern associated with hyponatremia, so you need to seek immediate medical attention if you develop symptoms of cerebral edema such as confusion, altered mental status, lethargy, and seizures.

What Causes Low Blood Sodium?

Now that you know the answer to your question "what does low sodium mean", it is equally important to understand exactly what cause hyponatremia. Here are some of the most common causes:

1. Drinking Too Much Water

Drinking water is good for your health but too much of it will lower the concentration of sodium in your body.

2. Medications

You may develop hyponatremia if you are taking medications such as antidepressants, diuretics, and pain medications that make you urinate more than normal.

3. SIADH

In this condition, your body starts producing higher levels of anti-diuretic hormone (ADH), which in turn makes your body to hold on to water instead of eliminating it normally through urine.

4. Vomiting and Diarrhea

You may lose excess water and sodium due to diarrhea and vomiting. This will also lower levels of sodium and electrolytes in your body.

5. Hormonal Changes

You may have low sodium levels due to hormonal changes. Adrenal gland insufficiency can affect the way your adrenal glands produce hormones to maintain a balance of potassium, sodium, and water. You may experience the same because of low levels of thyroid hormone.

6. Other Medical Disorders

Congestive heart failure and many other diseases that affect your liver or kidneys may make it difficult for your body to get rid of excess fluid, which lowers the concentration of sodium in your body and causes hyponatremia.

7. Recreational Drug

If you take certain recreational drugs, such as amphetamine, you increase your risk of developing hyponatremia.

What to Do If You Have Low Blood Sodium

Knowing "what does low sodium mean" is not enough, you may want to learn what to do to avoid dealing with any serious situation.

Self-Care

You should trust your thirst mechanism to decide how much water to drink. Monitoring the color of your urine will also help make a decision about adequate hydration. You are getting dehydrated if your urine is dark and concentrated, whereas clear, dilute urine means your body is well hydrated. Patients with kidney, heart, and liver failure should have their electrolyte levels checked regularly.

Medical Treatments

Medical treatments depend on your symptoms and any other complications. Your doctor will first protect the airway if you experience seizure or coma. They will ensure that you are breathing, have adequate pulse and blood pressure. Once your condition becomes stable, they will determine the best treatment by considering whether you have chronic or acute hyponatremia.

  • Acute hyponatremia is not that common. Treatment options include taking steps to prevent cerebral edema and brain death. Your doctor may infuse highly concentrated intravenous sodium in case of acute hyponatremia and seizures.
  • Chronic hyponatremia is relatively more common. Since the levels go down gradually, it is important not to correct the situation too quickly or it may damage the brain stem and cause stroke-like symptoms.
 
 
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