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Sodium - blood

Definition

This test measures the amount of sodium in the blood.

Alternative Names

Serum sodium

Why the Test is Performed

Your doctor may order this test if you have signs of a sodium imbalance or disorders associated with abnormal sodium levels.

Your blood sodium level represents a balance between the sodium in the food and drinks you consume and the amount in urine. A small percentage is lost through stool and sweat.

Many factors affect sodium levels, including:

  • Recent trauma, surgery, or shock
  • Consuming large or small amounts of salt or fluid
  • Receiving intravenous (IV) fluids containing sodium
  • Taking diuretics or certain other medications, including the hormone aldosterone

How the Test is Performed

Blood is drawn from a vein, usually from the inside of the elbow or the back of the hand. The site is cleaned with germ-killing medicine (antiseptic). The health care provider wraps an elastic band around the upper arm to apply pressure to the area and make the vein swell with blood.

Next, the health care provider gently inserts a needle into the vein. The blood collects into an airtight vial or tube attached to the needle. The elastic band is removed from your arm.

Once the blood has been collected, the needle is removed, and the puncture site is covered to stop any bleeding.

In infants or young children, a sharp tool called a lancet may be used to puncture the skin and make it bleed. The blood collects into a small glass tube called a pipette, or onto a slide or test strip. A bandage may be placed over the area if there is any bleeding.

How to Prepare for the Test

Your health care provider will instruct you, if necessary, to discontinue drugs that may interfere with the test. Do not stop or change your medications without your doctor's knowledge.

Drugs that can increase blood sodium levels include:

  • Anabolic steroids
  • Birth control pills
  • Certain antibiotics
  • Clonidine
  • Corticosteroids
  • Cough medications
  • Laxatives
  • Methyldopa
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

Drugs that can reduce blood sodium levels include:

  • Carbamazepine
  • Diuretics
  • Sulfonylureas
  • Triamterene
  • Vasopressin

How the Test Will Feel

When the needle is inserted to draw blood, some people feel moderate pain, while others feel only a prick or stinging sensation. Afterward, there may be some throbbing.

Risks

Possible risks from any blood test include:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Fainting or feeling lightheaded
  • Hematoma (blood accumulating under the skin)
  • Infection (a slight risk any time the skin is broken)
  • Multiple punctures to locate veins

Normal Results

The normal range for blood sodium levels is 135 to 145 milliequivalents per liter (mEq/L).

Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Talk to your doctor about the meaning of your specific test results.

What Abnormal Results Mean

Abnormal sodium levels can be due to many different conditions. To help determine the cause, your health care provider will consider the total amount of fluid in your body. This is done by looking at the turgor of your skin and swelling in the ankles, feet, and legs.

For greater-than-normal sodium levels:

  • If the amount of fluid in your body is low, you may have fluid loss due to excessive sweating, diarrhea, use of diuretics, or burns.
  • If your total body water is normal, high sodium levels may be due diabetes insipidus or too little of the hormone vasopressin.
  • If your total body water is high, this may indicate hyperaldosteronism , Cushing syndrome, or a diet that's too high in salt or sodium bicarbonate.

For lower-than-normal sodium levels:

Additional conditions for which the test may be performed include:


Review Date: 10/26/2007
Reviewed By: Updated by: A.D.A.M. Editorial Team: Greg Juhn, M.T.P.W., David R. Eltz, Kelli A. Stacy. Previously reviewed by Robert Hurd, M.D., Department of Biology, College of Arts and Sciences, Xavier University, Cincinnati, OH. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network
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