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Overview of Sodium's Role in the Body

By

James L. Lewis III

, MD, Brookwood Baptist Health and Saint Vincent’s Ascension Health, Birmingham

Last full review/revision Sep 2021| Content last modified Oct 2021
CLICK HERE FOR THE PROFESSONAL VERSION

Most of the body’s sodium is located in blood and in the fluid around cells. Sodium helps the body keep fluids in a normal balance (see About Body Water About Body Water Water accounts for about one half to two thirds of an average person’s weight. Fat tissue has a lower percentage of water than lean tissue and women tend to have more fat, so the percentage... read more ). Sodium plays a key role in normal nerve and muscle function.

The body obtains sodium through food and drink and loses it primarily in sweat and urine. Healthy kidneys maintain a consistent level of sodium in the body by adjusting the amount excreted in the urine. When sodium consumption and loss are not in balance, the total amount of sodium in the body is affected. The amount (concentration) of sodium in the blood may be

Controlling blood volume

The total amount of sodium in the body affects the amount of fluid in blood (blood volume) and around cells. The body continually monitors blood volume and sodium concentration. When either becomes too high, sensors in the heart, blood vessels, and kidneys detect the increases and stimulate the kidneys to increase sodium excretion, thus returning blood volume to normal.

When blood volume or sodium concentration becomes too low, the sensors trigger mechanisms to increase blood volume. These mechanisms include the following:

Maintaining fluid and sodium balance in older people

As people age, the body is less able to maintain fluid and sodium balance for several reasons:

The above situations can result in losing fluid or not consuming enough fluid and thus can cause a high sodium level in blood (hypernatremia Hypernatremia (High Level of Sodium in the Blood) In hypernatremia, the level of sodium in blood is too high. Hypernatremia involves dehydration, which can have many causes, including not drinking enough fluids, diarrhea, kidney dysfunction... read more ) and/or dehydration Dehydration Dehydration is a deficiency of water in the body. Vomiting, diarrhea, excessive sweating, burns, kidney failure, and use of diuretics may cause dehydration. People feel thirsty, and as dehydration... read more . Because these situations are more common among older people, hypernatremia is also more common among them. Hypernatremia is poorly tolerated by older people and can result in confusion, coma, and death if severe.

A low sodium level in blood (hyponatremia Hyponatremia (Low Level of Sodium in the Blood) In hyponatremia, the level of sodium in blood is too low. A low sodium level has many causes, including consumption of too many fluids, kidney failure, heart failure, cirrhosis, and use of diuretics... read more ) is more common among older people. Hyponatremia usually results when the body retains too much fluid, as occurs in heart failure or liver disease. Hyponatremia also occurs in older people who take certain types of diuretics (thiazide diuretics such as hydrochlorothiazide), particularly if the kidneys are not functioning normally. Diuretics, which are sometimes called water pills, are drugs that help the body eliminate excess fluid. Using liquid nutritional supplements or receiving intravenous fluids that are low in sodium while in the hospital also may cause hyponatremia in older people.

Drugs Mentioned In This Article

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MICROZIDE
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