Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Subscribe to the Magazine for free
Subscribe for free to keep reading! If you are already subscribed, enter your email address to log back in.
Thanks for subscribing!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Are you a healthcare practitioner?
Thanks for subscribing!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

What is Hyponatremia, and How Can You Test For It?

Medically reviewed by 
What is Hyponatremia, and How Can You Test For It?

Although sodium often gets vilified for its role in causing hypertension, especially in the context of the Standard American Diet, it is an electrolyte that plays an essential role in human physiology. Hyponatremia is a medical condition characterized by low sodium levels in the blood and potentially severe health consequences. This article addresses hyponatremia, exploring its diverse causes, symptoms, testing methods, and management strategies.


The Role of Sodium in the Body

Sodium is the body's primary positively charged extracellular electrolyte, which means most of the body's sodium is located in the blood and the fluid surrounding cells. 

Sodium is integral to fluid balance, regulating osmotic pressure and ensuring cells stay properly hydrated. This balance is fundamental for sustaining overall bodily functions and preventing dehydration or excess fluid accumulation (edema). 

Sodium also facilitates the generation and propagation of nerve impulses. When a nerve impulse is initiated, sodium channels open, allowing an influx of sodium ions into the nerve cell. This influx causes a change in the cell's electrical charge, leading to depolarization and the transmission of the nerve impulse along the nerve fiber, facilitating communication between nerve and muscle cells. When a nerve impulse reaches the muscle cell, it triggers the release of calcium ions, which, in turn, expose binding sites on the muscle filaments and cause the contraction of muscle fibers. Maintaining sodium levels within an optimal range is imperative for neurological function and smooth and controlled muscle movements.

The normal range of sodium levels in the blood is between 135 and 145 milliequivalents per liter (mEq/L). Hyponatremia is diagnosed when the blood sodium concentration drops below 135 mEq/L. Severe hyponatremia is defined as a serum sodium concentration below 125 mEq/L. (16

Causes of Hyponatremia

The causes of hyponatremia are classified based on the volume status of the extracellular fluid: hypovolemic, euvolemic, or hypervolemic.

Hypovolemic Hyponatremia

Hypovolemic hyponatremia is a condition characterized by low blood sodium levels in conjunction with decreased blood volume (hypovolemia). This imbalance results from a relative excess of water compared to sodium, which dilutes sodium concentration in the bloodstream. Causes of hypovolemic hyponatremia often involve fluid losses, such as vomiting, diarrhea, excessive sweating, or the use of diuretics. These conditions lead to a depletion of both water and sodium, but the loss of sodium is proportionally greater, contributing to the overall reduction in blood volume and sodium concentration. (14

Euvolemic Hyponatremia

Euvolemic hyponatremia is characterized by low blood sodium levels within a normal blood volume (euvolemia). In this scenario, the total body water increases without a proportional increase in sodium, leading to the dilution of sodium in the bloodstream. One common cause of euvolemic hyponatremia is the syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone secretion (SIADH), where the body retains water excessively due to an inappropriate release of antidiuretic hormone. Other potential causes include certain medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and various medical conditions like hypothyroidism or adrenal insufficiency. (14

Hypervolemic Hyponatremia

Hypervolemic hyponatremia is a condition characterized by low blood sodium levels in the presence of increased blood volume (hypervolemia). The dilution of sodium in the bloodstream occurs alongside an expansion of extracellular fluid. Heart failure, liver cirrhosis, and kidney diseases are common causes of hypervolemic hyponatremia. In heart failure, compromised cardiac function leads to fluid retention, while liver cirrhosis can impair the liver's ability to regulate sodium and fluid balance. The kidneys regulate sodium reabsorption and excretion. Kidney diseases, such as nephrotic syndrome or renal failure, can disrupt this regulatory mechanism, leading to sodium retention and fluid accumulation (14

Symptoms of Hyponatremia

The symptoms of hyponatremia can vary in intensity from mild to severe, contingent upon the rapidity of onset and the extent of sodium deficiency. In mild cases, individuals may experience nausea, headache, and fatigue. As the sodium levels decline further, symptoms can progress to confusion, muscle cramps, and altered mental status. Severe hyponatremia may manifest as seizures, respiratory distress, and, in extreme cases, coma and death. (8, 9

Testing for Hyponatremia

The diagnostic approach to hyponatremia involves a comprehensive assessment beginning with a thorough patient history and physical examination. Patient intake should focus on identifying factors contributing to fluid imbalance, such as recent illnesses, medication use, and dietary habits. The physical exam should include an evaluation of vital signs, fluid status, neurological signs, and any potential signs of underlying conditions, like heart failure or liver disease. (2

Laboratory testing is crucial for diagnosing hyponatremia. Sodium levels can be measured with a comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP), such as this one offered by Access Med Labs. Calculating the serum osmolality helps classify hyponatremia into categories, distinguishing between hypovolemic, euvolemic, and hypervolemic forms. This differentiation aids in narrowing down potential causes. Online calculators are available to calculate osmolality. (2

Further tests like thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), urinary uric acid, adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), plasma cortisol, and brain natriuretic peptide (BNP) may be ordered to explore underlying factors. These tests help rule out thyroid dysfunction, adrenal insufficiency, and cardiac-related causes of hyponatremia, providing a more precise diagnosis and guiding appropriate treatment strategies. (2


Managing and Treating Hyponatremia

Managing hyponatremia is dependent upon the severity of the patient's symptoms and the underlying cause. In some cases of mild hyponatremia, no active treatment is required; your doctor may recommend close monitoring and follow-up. (10

Prompt treatment is most important for patients with sudden drops in serum sodium in less than a 48-hour period and/or severely depressed levels (10). Treatment strategies include fluid restriction, adjusting medications, and giving salt to the patient through diet or administration of salt tablets. Moderate-to-severe hyponatremia will be treated in a hospital and typically requires the controlled administration of intravenous sodium. (8

Osmotic demyelination syndrome (ODS), or central pontine myelinolysis (CPM), is a neurological disorder characterized by the demyelination of nerve cells in the brain's central pontine and extrapontine regions. It typically occurs as a consequence of rapid and drastic changes in serum sodium levels, often stemming from overly aggressive correction of hyponatremia. ODS presents with a spectrum of neurological symptoms, ranging from mild weakness and difficulty speaking to severe complications such as quadriplegia, seizures, and altered consciousness. Given its potentially devastating impact on neurological function, a cautious and gradual approach to sodium correction is essential to prevent its development. (3

Long-term treatment of hyponatremia focuses on addressing the underlying causes of sodium imbalances to prevent hyponatremia from recurring in the future.

Preventing Hyponatremia

Preventing hyponatremia involves maintaining a balanced approach to fluid intake and promoting overall electrolyte health. Individuals engaging in prolonged or intense physical activities, such as endurance athletes, should be mindful of their fluid intake during exercise. Rather than solely focusing on water consumption, incorporating electrolyte-rich beverages or supplements can help maintain sodium balance. (4

Regular monitoring and consultation with healthcare professionals are essential for those with specific medical conditions or taking medications that may impact sodium levels. Medication adjustments or dietary modifications may be recommended to prevent electrolyte imbalances. It's important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of hyponatremia, such as nausea, headache, and fatigue. Seek prompt medical attention if any concerns arise so that early interventions can be implemented before severe hyponatremia arises. (8, 9

When to Seek Medical Attention

If you are at risk for hyponatremia based on medications you are currently taking or underlying health conditions, contact your doctor if you begin to experience nausea, headaches, cramping, or weakness. (9

Anyone who develops severe signs and symptoms of hyponatremia, such as confusion, seizures, and loss of consciousness, requires immediate medical care. (9

Living with Hyponatremia

In addition to lifestyle adjustments, such as moderating fluid intake and eating a well-balanced diet, regular medical check-ups are imperative for ongoing monitoring of sodium levels for patients at risk of hyponatremia. This proactive approach allows healthcare professionals to detect any fluctuations in sodium concentration and make timely adjustments to the treatment plan. Patients should communicate openly with their healthcare team about any changes in symptoms or lifestyle, fostering a collaborative effort to optimize their well-being. Treatment plans may evolve over time based on individual responses. Staying informed, attending regular check-ups, and adhering to prescribed treatment regimens empower individuals to proactively prevent sodium depletion, promoting a balanced and fulfilling life while safeguarding their health.


Key Takeaways

Comprehending the complexities of hyponatremia is paramount for safeguarding health. 

Sodium has crucial roles in the body, and hyponatremia can cause severe repercussions if not managed quickly and appropriately. Vigilance in recognizing symptoms, seeking timely medical advice, and embracing proactive lifestyle and dietary adjustments are pivotal steps in ensuring early diagnosis and effective recovery.

The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement or making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.
Learn More
No items found.

Lab Tests in This Article


  1. Bigler-Coyne, A. (2020, November 25). Pass the Salt: Sodium's Role in Nerve Signaling and Stress on Blood Vessels. NIH.
  2. Braun, M. M., Barstow, C. H., & Pyzocha, N. J. (2015). Diagnosis and Management of Sodium Disorders: Hyponatremia and Hypernatremia. American Family Physician, 91(5), 299–307.
  3. Central Pontine Myelinolysis (CPM). Cleveland Clinic.
  4. Cloyd, J. (2024, January 8). The Science of Hydration: How Water Intake Affects Overall Health. Rupa Health.
  5. DePorto, T. (2022, December 9). Functional Medicine Lab Tests for Heart Disease. Rupa Health.
  6. DePorto, T. (2023, January 5). Electrolytes Imbalance: Symptoms & How to Treat It. Rupa Health.
  7. Fuller, R., & Morgan, W. (1960). The Role Of Ions In Muscle Excitation And Contraction. Henry Ford Hospital Medical Bulletin, 8(1), 55–62.
  8. Hyponatremia. Cleveland Clinic.
  9. Hyponatremia. (2022, May 17). Mayo Clinic.
  10. Hyponatremia (low sodium level in the blood). (2023, December 11). National Kidney Foundation.
  11. Khakham, C. (2023, March 28). An integrative medicine approach to kidney disease. Rupa Health.
  12. Lewis III, J. L. (2023, September). Overview of Sodium's Role in the Body. Merck Manuals Consumer Version.
  13. Maholy, N. (2023, April 24). A Functional Medicine Protocol for Hypo-Responsiveness Adrenal Dysregulation. Rupa Health.
  14. Rondon, H., & Badireddy, M. (2023). Hyponatremia. PubMed; StatPearls Publishing.
  15. Serum Osmolality/Osmolarity. MDCalc.
  16. Strazzullo, P., & Leclercq, C. (2014). Sodium. Advances in Nutrition, 5(2), 188–190.
  17. Weinberg, J. L. (2022, September 7). An Integrative Medicine Approach to Hypothyroidism. Rupa Health.
  18. Yoshimura, H. (2023, October 16). An Integrative Approach to Liver Cirrhosis Management. Rupa Health.
Subscribe to the Magazine for free. to keep reading!
Subscribe for free to keep reading, If you are already subscribed, enter your email address to log back in.
Thanks for subscribing!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Are you a healthcare practitioner?
Thanks for subscribing!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.