low sodium levels

How Low Sodium Levels Can Affect Our Loved Ones

Health aspects of low sodium levels in our elderly

Low sodium levels, clinically referred to as hyponatremia, are often a common accompaniment of old age. It is a condition where blood sodium levels drop dangerously below average. This condition can also arise when you have too much water. Either of the conditions mentioned can cause hyponatremia. According to a study published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, hyponatremia occurs when the blood sodium levels fall below 120mEq/L.

Sodium – as an essential electrolyte

Even though sodium has always been the primary cause of high blood pressure, little did we know that this electrolyte is essential for the healthy functioning of our body. In addition, sodium plays a pivotal role in the proper cognitive functioning of older adults.

Functions of sodium in your body.

Sodium helps in regulating the communication between the various nerves of the body. Thus assisting in appropriate nerve functioning.

Health Benefits of Sodium
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Sodium is also necessary for muscle contraction. This is because it is an electrolyte (a mineral that carries an electrical charge).

  • Sodium helps facilitate cell permeability.
  • It acts as an essential electrolyte for maintaining fluid balance.
  • It plays a pivotal role in maintaining blood pressure.
  • It’s necessary for proper heart functioning and maintaining the heartbeat.
  • Sodium also facilitates the absorption of amino acids, glucose, and galactose.

Symptoms of Low Sodium Levels

Low sodium levels, even though mild, can cause cognitive disturbances in our elderly. Mild hyponatremia, a common problem, was never thought to be a problematic condition for our elderly until research gave us shocking revelations. Recent studies show that mild hyponatremia can cause:

  • Gait disturbances
  • Attention deficit
  • Cardiovascular events
  • Falls
  • Premature death

When sodium levels drop beyond a certain level, the elderly can experience the following signs and symptoms:

  • Nausea accompanied by vomiting
  • Confusion, drowsiness, and disorientation

Hyponatremia

These are usually the first signs of hyponatremia. These symptoms, however, may also present as symptoms of other neurological diseases, namely Alzheimer’s or vascular dementia. In these conditions, the actual problem of low sodium levels may often go unnoticed. Therefore, if you notice that your loved one is experiencing the following symptoms, you must check their sodium levels.

  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Disorientation

Headache

Headaches occur as a result of fluid build-up in the brain tissues. A slight drop in blood levels may not cause headaches. However, if your elderly loved one is complaining of headaches, it could indicate that their sodium levels have dropped below normal.

Irritability and Restlessness

Respiratory Arrest and Coma

These are the signs of severe hyponatremia. The brain tends to swell when the sodium levels become low, indicating a medical emergency.

low sodium levels may lead to hypocatremia
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Other symptoms of hyponatremia include the following:

  • Dizziness
  • Seizures
  • Weakness
  • Muscle cramps or spasms
  • Causes of low sodium in the elderly

Various factors can cause hyponatremia in the elderly, including the following:

  • Medications
    Certain medications, which are diuretics, can cause sodium levels to drop beyond the normal range. In addition, if your elderly loved one is on antidepressants or is taking painkillers for a long time, that can also cause hyponatremia. This is because these medications can also interfere with the normal functioning of the kidneys.
  • Dehydration
    Conditions that cause dehydration, such as vomiting and diarrhea, can cause your body to lose electrolytes, like sodium.
  • Syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone (SIADH)
    SIADH is a condition wherein the body produces high levels of the antidiuretic hormone. This condition causes the kidneys to retain water instead of allowing them to excrete it out of your body.
  • Drinking excessive water
    When you drink excessive water, you essentially overwhelm the kidneys with their function to excrete water.
  • Underlying disease conditions
    Various disease conditions, such as heart, liver, and kidney problems, can cause sodium levels to fall below normal. This is so because congestive heart failure, or a disease affecting the kidney and liver, can cause an accumulation of water in the body, diluting the sodium and concerning its concentration in the blood.
  • Addison’s disease
    Addison’s disease, is also known as adrenal gland insufficiency. This can affect the ability of the adrenal gland to produce hormones. The insufficient production of hormones. It disrupts the body’s balance between the electrolytes (sodium and potassium) and water.

Tug of war between fluid intake and sodium

As you age, your body undergoes several changes. Of these changes, poor maintenance of fluid and sodium balance is the most prominent of these changes. Several reasons cause the fluid and sodium balance to be disturbed. These include:

  • Medications
    Our elderly loved ones are usually on several medications due to various ailments. If they take diuretics, they can cause excess fluid to be excreted out of the body. This can disrupt the fluid balance.
  • Decreased thirst
    This is a common phenomenon in older people, who are less likely to feel thirsty and drink water. Unfortunately, this can drastically cause them to drink less water than their body needs.
  • Fluid content in the body
    Usually, the elderly have less fluid content than their younger counterparts. For example, the elderly have only 45% fluid content compared to younger individuals with 60% fluid content. As a result, a slight shift in sodium levels can cause serious consequences, severely disrupting the fluid-to-sodium balance.
  • Alterations in kidney functioning
    It is a known fact that aging causes changes in organ functioning. As a result, the kidneys cannot retain as much water. In addition, electrolytes from the urine cause more water to get excreted out of the body. Such a phenomenon can also disturb the fluid-to-sodium balance.

Prevention strategies

So far, it has been pretty clear that hyponatremia is a common condition of old age. And even small shifts in serum sodium levels can cause great worry. As you can see, it now becomes necessary to understand the various ways to prevent the condition. The following preventive strategies can keep sodium levels in check:

  • Get treated for underlying diseases
    Your elderly loved one must receive treatment for conditions that give rise to hyponatremia. In many cases, hyponatremia does not occur as a stand-alone case but as a result of underlying disease conditions. Therefore, they must be treated for those conditions to prevent serum sodium levels from dropping.
  • Get sodium levels checked regularly.
    Your elderly loved one’s sodium levels need to be checked regularly so that you can watch for shifts.

Treatment of hyponatremia

This largely depends on the underlying disease conditions your elderly loved one suffers from. One central point that needs to be mentioned is that a rapid correction of serum sodium levels is not advised. Immediate modification can lead to diffuse cerebral demyelination. It is important to note that the serum sodium is always raised at the rate of 0.6 to 2.0mEq/L in the first 24 hours. After that, certain medications can control the symptoms.

Conclusion

I agree that too much salt and not enough is not good. We all must use salt in moderation to keep our loved ones healthy and happy. But you also need to monitor your loved ones’ sodium levels. So use the tips and suggestions I’ve provided to keep your elderly loved one’s sodium level healthy.

Let me know in the comments if this article was helpful for you and if you have experienced this situation with your loved one.

 

low sodium levels

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