Hyponatremia can occur when the amount of sodium in the body drops to below-normal levels. This happens as people lose salt as a result of sweating (i.e. during exercising) or drink too much liquid which will dilute sodium levels. In extreme cases, this could cause the brain to swell, pressing against the skull. If this is the case, it’s possible this condition could even result in coma or death.
The list of symptoms include, but aren’t limited to, nausea and vomiting, headache, confusion, lethargy or fatigue, restlessness and irritability or even seizures.
Sodium is a key electrolyte in your body. It helps to carry nerve impulses in between cells. Its purpose is not only to maintain blood pressure, but it is also essential for your nervous system to accomplish desired muscle movement.
When these sodium levels become too low it results in excess water having the chance to enter your cells, in turn causing them to swell, which is what becomes dangerous for your brain. Being located inside your skull, it has no room to expand.
Research dictates that exercise-related hyponatremia only happens as a result of long periods of exertion, lasting four hours or longer. Such activities include marathons or triathlons, since during these situations people are more likely to consume much more liquid than usual.
There are other risk factors involved when it comes to hyponatremia:
* Age – Older adults are more likely to suffer from low sodium levels. Due to changes in the body as well as the increased possibilities of chronic disease, the body’s normal sodium levels can become compromised.
* Gender – Hyponatremia is more likely to become an issue for women than men.
* Diet – If you are on a low sodium diet combined with diuretics you become at a greater risk for complications.
* Extreme sports or intense physical activity – People who partake in marathons or other long-distance or high-intensity sports are at an elevated risk.
* Climate – Higher temperatures can result in unusual sweating patterns which can increase the amount of sweat your body produces. This amount of sweat means an addition to the amount of sodium you lose.
Due to the amount of similar symptoms with other conditions, the only way to diagnose hyponatremia is by providing your doctor with accurate medical history. He or she may ask about recent vomiting, diarrhea or other reasons for significant loss of fluids. You will also need some laboratory tests such as blood work and possibly urinalysis for an accurate diagnosis.
Although there are specific treatments and drugs which can help with this ailment, it is also easily prevented. Treating associated conditions can help prevent your sodium levels from dropping below normal levels. Drinking moderate amounts of water, yet enough to keep hydrated, is definitely recommended. Sports drinks are a good choice for consumption during high endurance activities.
According to the Marathon Medical Directors Association, athletes shouldn’t consume more than 31 ounces of water per hour of extended strenuous exercise.
It's easy to see how a little planning, coupled with some time spent educating yourself on this disease and prevention methods, could be such an important step to take in your journey for health.