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Serum Osmolality

A serum osmolality test measures the amount of chemicals dissolved in the liquid part (serum) of the blood. Chemicals that affect serum osmolality include sodium, chloride, bicarbonate, proteins, and sugar (glucose).

This test is done on a blood sample taken from a vein.

A substance called antidiuretic hormone (ADH) partly controls serum osmolality. Water constantly leaves your body as you breathe, sweat, and urinate. If you do not drink enough water, the concentration of chemicals in your blood (serum osmolality) increases. When serum osmolality increases, your body releases ADH. This keeps water from leaving in the urine, and it increases the amount of water in the blood. The ADH helps restore serum osmolality to normal levels.

If you drink too much water, the concentration of chemicals in your blood decreases. When serum osmolality decreases, your body stops releasing ADH. This increases the amount of water in your urine. It keeps too much water from building up in your body (overhydration).

Why It Is Done

This test may be done to:

  • Check the balance between the water and the chemicals in your blood.
  • Find out if you have severe dehydration or overhydration.
  • Check to see if your body is making enough ADH.
  • Find the cause of seizures or coma. In severe cases, these can be caused by an imbalance between water and electrolytes in the body.
  • Find out if you have swallowed a poison, such as rubbing alcohol, wood alcohol, or antifreeze.

How To Prepare

Be sure to tell your doctor about all the medicines you take, including over-the-counter ones. Many medicines can change the results of this test.

Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about the need for the test, its risks, how it will be done, or what the results will mean. To help you understand the importance of this test, fill out the medical test information form(What is a PDF document?).

How It Is Done

The health professional taking a sample of your blood will:

  • Wrap an elastic band around your upper arm to stop the flow of blood. This makes the veins below the band larger so it is easier to put a needle into the vein.
  • Clean the needle site with alcohol.
  • Put the needle into the vein. More than one needle stick may be needed.
  • Attach a tube to the needle to fill it with blood.
  • Remove the band from your arm when enough blood is collected.
  • Put a gauze pad or cotton ball over the needle site as the needle is removed.
  • Put pressure on the site and then put on a bandage.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: November 14, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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