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Hyponatremia, a kidney disorder due to excess water

Although water is considered an essential requirement for the proper functioning of the body, excessive intake can lead to hyponatremia, a kidney disorder that, if not diagnosed in time, can be fatal.

Hyponatremia causes the sodium in the blood to be unstable. It is an important electrolyte for maintaining blood pressure, as well as for nerves, muscles and body tissues to work properly.

When the amount of sodium in the fluids lining the cells is insufficient, water moves into them to balance the levels, but it causes the cells to swell with too much water, which can lead to problems in health. In other words, it generates an excess of water that the kidney is not able to eliminate.

“Hyponatremia is the technical name given to water intoxication. Although the name comes from a low concentration of sodium, the problem is not that the sodium is low, but that it is diluted by water and therefore lowers its concentration”.

He explains it to EFEsalut nephrologist Maria Vanessa Pérez-Gómez, one of the authors of the study “Who killed Bruce Lee? Hyponatremia hypothesiscarried out by the Fundació Jiménez Díaz Hospital in Madrid and published in the magazine Clinical Kidney Journal in March 2022.

The death of the actor and martial arts master Bruce Lee, in 1973, at the age of 32, has always been a mystery and now, with this study, hyponatremia is hypothesized.

According to the investigation based on an analysis of publicly available information, “the cause of death was cerebral edema due to hyponatremia. In other words, we propose that the inability of the kidney to excrete excess water killed Bruce Lee”, given also the multiple risk factors he had.

Types of hyponatremia and symptoms

According to the specialist of the Spanish Society of Nephrology, there are two types of hyponatremia: acute and chronic.

The acute hyponatremia it occurs when there is a high or forced intake of water or other liquids in a short time, so the kidneys do not have time to eliminate it.

Among the most common symptoms, we find:

  • Confusion, irritability, restlessness.
  • Seizures.
  • fatigue.
  • Headache.
  • inappetence
  • Muscle weakness, spasms or cramps.
  • Nausea, vomiting.

On the other hand, the chronic hyponatremia it occurs when the person ingests large amounts of water and their kidneys are limited, that is to say, they have causes that prevent them from removing this water (as in the case of taking certain drugs, excessive alcohol consumption or a diet poor in solids).

The doctor points out that in this case, the symptoms are more difficult to identify, since being prolonged over time, the body ends up getting used to it.

Patients at risk of developing the disease

“People who follow treatments that can limit renal capacity (diuretic treatment, antiepileptics, antidepressants, opioids for pain) or those who eat little solute and whose diet is mainly based on liquids, are more likely to develop hyponatremia” , points out the expert.

In addition, he adds that “hyponatremia is a frequent condition in hospitalized patients and that even a 40% they can present it”.

When should we go to the doctor?

Doctor Pérez-Gómez emphasizes that before the excessive water intake which, in addition, is accompanied by one of the symptoms mentioned, it is necessary to go to the doctor, as it would be an acute type of hyponatraemia.

In this case, it is more dangerous than the chronic type and, therefore, the speed of action must be fast, since it can cause a loss of consciousness in the patient and even an induced coma.

Diagnosis and treatment

EFE/ Jesús Diges

According to the nephrologist, the diagnosis of hyponatremia is confirmed by a blood analysis.

Regarding the treatmentpoints out that “it is necessary to reduce water intake and correct, if possible, the risk factor that is limiting the kidney”.

In addition, it can be supplemented with intravenous sodium solution and medication to cut symptoms.

It also affects the fact that water is present in food, meals, fruit… so the patient must be instructed to take this into account.

On the other hand, he points out that “hyponatremia can be a one-off thing that develops in certain situations” and that in addition, it can suffer again.

How can we prevent hyponatremia?

The expert offers two recommendations key to preventing it:

  • Do not force water intake unless prescribed by a medical recommendation. You don’t have to drink to drink.
  • Pay attention to the foods and the amounts of water they contain. And especially, salt, since when we consume more salty foods, we need to drink more water.

“Having to drink two liters of water a day is not scientifically proven. A person must pay attention to what he drinks and what he eliminates”, concludes the doctor.

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