A Conundrum of Low Blood Sodium Causes My Latest Health Scare

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by John Connor |

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“Well, this an idea for your next column, John,” my wife, Jane, said, a tad sardonically. At least I thought it was probably sardonic, as there was just a wisp of a razor-thin smirk glimmering at the corners of her eyes. This was because she was wearing a face mask, though it would be difficult to tell even without one, as she’s got deadpan down cold. Or she might just be trying to help.

Paranoid, moi?

We were both wearing face masks, as we’d had to go to the emergency department at our local hospital. My doctor had stressed that it was urgent I go immediately. This was a week ago Thursday.

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There was a certain synchronicity to these events. We were pulling up to my doctor’s office when the doctor called me. Cack-handed as ever, I managed to lose the call instantly. No matter, we were early to my appointment with the general practice nurse regarding the never-ending wound on my heel, which was to have yet another plaster and topical treatment applied.

So we wheeled — well, I did anyway — up to the receptionist, and within seconds we were seeing the doctor. OK, this was serious, though a big part of me was screaming, “WHAT ON EARTH IS IT THIS TIME?!”

It seems my blood sodium level was down to 123 mEq/L, an extremely dangerous level. (A normal level is 135–145 mEq/L.) I was about to be told that a level of 125 mEq/L or below necessitates immediate hospitalization. I should be drawling or hallucinating by now. Fatigue was also high on my list, though obviously a tad difficult to distinguish in my case.

A quick scan of the internet wasn’t too reassuring, as one of the possible side effects turns out to be death. Ouch.

I’d had my bloodwork done on the previous Monday as part of ongoing, long-term therapy for my even longer-term struggle with urinary tract infections. Now that we’ve wrestled the pandemic into abeyance here in the U.K., this has reverted to every three months.

In fact, the last time I had blood drawn I had to have a follow-up blood test locally to test for low sodium. The test wasn’t deemed uber urgent then. It turned out that the result of that backup test was 130 mEq/L, which is under the normal range, a condition called hyponatremia. Left untreated, hyponatremia can be life-threatening and cause rapid brain swelling. Having blood sodium levels that are too high is called hypernatremia, which can lead to a heart attack and, er, death!

You can’t win.

Fortunately, my levels were now up to 128 mEq/L, so thankfully, I could go home.

The incredibly sympathetic emergency department doctor — especially considering the stress of his job in the last two years — thought the low blood sodium might be caused by one of the drugs I take. As it is a vast array, I was very impressed that he’d managed to pick oxcarbazepine, one of the drugs I swallow to combat trigeminal neuralgia.

The next morning, Jane researched it and sent me the evidence. I was in no condition to do the research while spending the day in bed recovering after my eight-hour stint into the early hours at the emergency department.

One of the side effects of low sodium is tiredness. Fatigue doesn’t put me to sleep; it just reduces what’s left of my body that actually moves. I have been napping at my desk for years now and have found it increasingly difficult to concentrate much past 6 p.m.

In the last few days, this hasn’t been the case, as I’ve completely overturned my long-term low-salt diet. I now eat salted nuts and chips, which also are significantly cheaper than healthy alternatives. I laugh at the rise of inflation — though let’s hope this inflates my sodium levels.

It might just be psychosomatic, but here I am writing well past 6 p.m. and feeling fine.

I also think it’s time to grab a beer, a bowl of salted nuts, and watch the footie!

Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.


י Maris Mohr avatar

י Maris Mohr

Salt shortage
I too went through that trip. Until my GP realized what the problem was I had passed out, fallen on my face a few times, had 0 energy even for showering. I had visited my GP and dentist looking for answers. Until they all discussed my condition and more blood tests they realized that my blood-salt levels were dangerously low (close to hospital treatment - death) I couldn't do anything. Luckily, forcing myself to eat much more salt solved the immediate problem. Now I have to pay closer attention to my periodic blood tests. Good luck with yours.


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