Four unusual causes of low sodium levels in the body

Low sodium in the body can be deadly. Here are four unusual causes of this dangerous disorder.

SUMMARY: Low blood sodium (hyponatremia) is an acute disorder that causes mild to life-threatening symptoms. This article describes 4 unusual causes of this condition.

Sodium is an element that your body requires to function normally by regulating the fluid that moves in and out of your cells. Low serum sodium (clinically called hyponatremia), is an urgent medical disorder that can cause a range of symptoms from mild to life-threatening.

When the body’s sodium level gets too low, the symptoms can be severe, including: headache, confusion, restlessness, muscle cramps, fatigue, seizures, and even death. The lower the level of sodium, the worse the symptoms tend to be.

The usual culprits of low sodium levels are diarrhea, use of diuretics, autoimmune disorders, or heart, liver, or kidney diseases. But for some patients, hyponatremia can occur because of one of these unusual causes:

Drinking too much beer

Hyponatremia is a common condition that occurs in chronic alcoholics and can be due to disorders that result from alcoholism, such as cirrhosis of the liver.

But a less common alcohol-related cause of low sodium can occur when a person has a high intake of beer coupled with not enough food.

Called beer potomania, this disorder occurs when the patient drinks a lot of beer but does not eat enough calories. Beer is low in electrolytes, so consuming a large amount of beer with no food disturbs the body’s balance of electrolytes. This condition can be exacerbated by flu-like illnesses with vomiting or diarrhea.

Taking Ibuprofen

Ibuprofen – known under the brand names Advil, Motrin, and Nuprin – is an NSAID anti-inflammatory pain reliever. Under certain circumstances, the drug can decrease blood flow to the kidneys and interfere with a hormone that aids the body in salt retention.

The most commonly seen Ibuprofen/sodium interaction is with long-distance runners who take Ibuprofen a few hours before a race. Racing conditions amplify the effect of the drug due to sweating and water intake by the runner.

But even non-runners can experience adverse effects of Ibuprofen on the body’s sodium balance. Typically, these problems occur in the elderly or people with renal disease, but interactions in healthy, young people have been reported in the literature.

Taking ecstasy

The illegal recreational drug ecstacy (also called MDMA) creates what medical professionals call the “perfect storm” of dangers with regard to the body’s sodium levels. The mechanism by which the low sodium occurs is complex and can cause life-threatening drops in sodium.

Over 25 such cases have been reported in medical literature, with the majority of cases occurring in women between the ages of 15 and 30 who have taken only one dose of the illicit street drug.

Having preeclampsia

Preeclampsia (PEC) is a complication of pregnancy characterized by high blood pressure and protein in the urine. This disorder can be life threatening to both the mother and the fetus.

Previously, hyponatremia in women with PEC was considered rare, but a recent report indicates indicate that the disorder is more common than previously recognized. The risk for low sodium goes up with the severity of the PEC and in women pregnant with twins.

In the January issue of the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, researchers at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University, Obstetrics and Gynecology in New York City have this to say:

    “Because hyponatremia can be associated with major morbidity, including brain injury, monitoring sodium levels should be considered in twin gestations complicated with PEC as well as all patients diagnosed with severe PEC.”

We have first-hand knowledge that sodium levels in the body can drop for unexpected reasons: One of our editorial team recently ended up in the emergency room with hyponatremia the day after taking Ibuprofen for back pain. It was a confusing and frightening experience since she was unaware of this uncommon drug side effect.

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