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Highly Accessed Review

Clinical review: Practical approach to hyponatraemia and hypernatraemia in critically ill patients

Christian Overgaard-Steensen12* and Troels Ring3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Neuroanaesthesiology, Rigshospitalet, Blegdamsvej 9, DK-2100 Copenhagen Ø, Denmark

2 Institute of Clinical Medicine, Aarhus University, Aarhus University Hospital, DK-8200 Skejby, Denmark

3 Department of Nephrology, Aarhus University Hospital, DK-9000 Aalborg, Denmark

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Critical Care 2012, 17:206  doi:10.1186/cc11805

Published: 27 February 2013

Abstract

Disturbances in sodium concentration are common in the critically ill patient and associated with increased mortality. The key principle in treatment and prevention is that plasma [Na+] (P-[Na+]) is determined by external water and cation balances. P-[Na+] determines plasma tonicity. An important exception is hyperglycaemia, where P-[Na+] may be reduced despite plasma hypertonicity. The patient is first treated to secure airway, breathing and circulation to diminish secondary organ damage. Symptoms are critical when handling a patient with hyponatraemia. Severe symptoms are treated with 2 ml/kg 3% NaCl bolus infusions irrespective of the supposed duration of hyponatraemia. The goal is to reduce cerebral symptoms. The bolus therapy ensures an immediate and controllable rise in P-[Na+]. A maximum of three boluses are given (increases P-[Na+] about 6 mmol/l). In all patients with hyponatraemia, correction above 10 mmol/l/day must be avoided to reduce the risk of osmotic demyelination. Practical measures for handling a rapid rise in P-[Na+] are discussed. The risk of overcorrection is associated with the mechanisms that cause hyponatraemia. Traditional classifications according to volume status are notoriously difficult to handle in clinical practice. Moreover, multiple combined mechanisms are common. More than one mechanism must therefore be considered for safe and lasting correction. Hypernatraemia is less common than hyponatraemia, but implies that the patient is more ill and has a worse prognosis. A practical approach includes treatment of the underlying diseases and restoration of the distorted water and salt balances. Multiple combined mechanisms are common and must be searched for. Importantly, hypernatraemia is not only a matter of water deficit, and treatment of the critically ill patient with an accumulated fluid balance of 20 litres and corresponding weight gain should not comprise more water, but measures to invoke a negative cation balance. Reduction of hypernatraemia/hypertonicity is critical, but should not exceed 12 mmol/l/day in order to reduce the risk of rebounding brain oedema.