What Is a Sodium Blood Test?
A sodium blood test (also called a serum sodium test) is a way for your health care provider to measure the amount of sodium in your blood. This test is often part of a group of tests that measure different substances in your blood, including:
A basic metabolic panel (BMP) is also called an electrolyte panel or a Chemistry panel or a Chem 7. It checks electrolytes, the acid to base balance of your blood, and blood glucose levels.
A comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP) checks electrolytes, but also checks blood protein levels and your liver function.
Sodium is key to helping send electrical signals between cells and controlling the amount of fluid in your body. Your body needs it for your cells to work the right way.
Most foods have sodium in them. The most common form is sodium chloride, found in table salt. Your body loses a certain amount of sodium each day through sweat and when you go to the bathroom.
A sodium blood test will measure your sodium level, because too little or too much can cause problems.
Symptoms of Sodium Imbalance
You might have certain symptoms that lead your doctor to suspect that your sodium level may be too high or too low. You might be confused, forgetful, or have problems with reasoning. Other symptoms your doctor may watch for include:
Causes of Sodium Imbalance
Any number of things can cause your sodium levels to get out of whack. They include:
- Surgery, an injury, or a serious illness
- Eating or drinking too much salt or liquids -- or too little of them
- Getting IV fluids
- Taking a class of medications called diuretics, which lower the amount of fluid in your body
- Taking other medicines, including the hormone aldosterone
- Kidney problems
Your doctor might order a test if you’re showing signs of a sodium imbalance or are at risk of becoming imbalanced.
What to Expect During a Sodium Blood Test
A sodium blood test is sometimes just one part of a broader set of tests. You might hear your doctor or nurse call this a serum sodium test.
For the test, a technician will draw blood, usually from the inside of the elbow area or back of the hand.
The technician will tie an elastic band around your arm so your veins will swell, which makes drawing blood easier. They will then insert a needle into the vein, and blood will collect in a glass vial or a tube. They’ll untie the band on your arm. After the blood is collected, the technician will take out the needle and cover the puncture site.
The risks of the test are very low. You might bleed at the puncture site and have a bruise there later. Right after the blood draw, you might feel lightheaded. Infection is possible any time the skin is broken.
What Do the Results of a Sodium Blood Test Mean?
Abnormal levels on a sodium blood test can point to various conditions.
If your sodium levels are too high for the amount of water in your body, it’s called hypernatremia. If the levels are too low, that’s called hyponatremia.
Hypernatremia might indicate several things, including:
- A problem with your adrenal glands, which sit atop your kidneys and help with all kinds of things including your immune system and response to stress
- A type of diabetes in which your kidneys don’t conserve water
- A loss of too much fluid through sweating, diarrhea, diuretics, or another issue
- Too much salt in your diet
- Overuse of certain medications, including NSAIDs, birth control pills, or laxatives
Hyponatremia might suggest conditions including:
- Adrenal glands not producing enough hormones
- Severe vomiting and/or diarrhea
- Increase in fluid in your body from conditions such as cirrhosis, congestive heart failure, and kidney failure
- A problem with the way your body releases an antidiuretic hormone
- Too much of a hormone called vasopressin, which helps keep your body’s water level in balance
- Use of certain medicines, including diuretics, certain antidepressants, and opioids
You may not need to worry about one slightly high or low sodium blood test. Your doctor will look at how the results relate to other tests, your overall health, and medical history. It’s possible that they’ll repeat the test.