First at my mother’s insistence and then as an adult, I followed nutritionists’ advice. Eat lots of vegetables, fruits, some protein foods. And, of course, avoid consuming too much salt and stay hydrated.
Then came a surprise. A warning from the doctor when a blood test showed low sodium. That’s salt. With it came an order to restrict liquid intake.
Too little sodium? Too much liquid?
Naturally I checked on the internet, but didn’t find anything particularly alarming.
Somehow I completely missed the information on hyponatremia.
Unfortunately, it turned out.
Hyponatremia is a serious condition that I learned the hard way after collapsing on the concrete patio and being unable to get up.
As is my habit, I was relaxing and reading on our chaise lounge, a retirement gift from the newspaper.
The rest is a blur. Somehow I ended up on my back on the patio cement, banging my head as I tried, with no success, to sit or stand.
My husband rescued me and contacted the health staff here in the senior community where we live. They agreed it was time for an ambulance and trip to the hospital.
The first days there remain a blur, but eventually with limited liquids, sodium tablets and other medications, I was released to our community’s rehab program just across the road from us. Just over a week ago I came home.
Once reunited with our computer, I researched the condition, primarily with the Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic websites. I gleaned information about hyponatrema — or abnormally low concentration of sodium in the blood.
Not surprisingly, getting older is one of the factors that may increase the risk. With age comes the greater likelihood of chronic diseases which can be related.
Some drugs, even some pain medications, may contribute. Specifically, sources mention the recreational drug ecstasy. That was certainly not a factor in my case.
Heart and kidney disease may be factors for some. Not in my case. Intensive physical activities, particularly for people who drink too much water while in marathons, triathlons and other demanding sports can be a factor. There are seniors who compete, of course, but I’m not among them. Walking and swimming, yes, but at an 81-year-old’s pace, thank you.
But shortly before my patio challenge, I did have several of the symptoms of a serious problem. Unfortunately I failed to recognize them. The signs of hyponatrema include nausea, vomiting, headache, confusion, loss of energy, drowsiness, fatigue, muscle weakness, spasms or cramps.
Going forward there will be weekly blood tests to check my sodium level and a couple medications, along with my continuing complaints about being thirsty. Somehow no more than six cups of all liquids a day fails to satisfy my thirst.
The doctors are not predicting the duration of the condition, but I am spreading the word.
Just today a friend said in an email that she had to limit liquids after a blood test showing low sodium. But, like me, she was not aware that it could develop into something far more serious.
I hope she never experiences it.