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Cancer

Sodium Level

03/12/2008

Question:

What is a normal sodium level? At what point is the level considered to be dangerously low? As a cancer patient, is this indicative of anything?

Answer:

Each laboratory has different ranges for normal sodium levels, so what is considered low is different for every laboratory. In general, one starts to monitor sodium levels that are in the mid 120’s range, because if it gets any lower it may cause confusion. If it is extremely low, say less than 110 or so, occasionally one may have a seizure. If low sodium levels start to cause problems, there are guidelines for giving IV fluids to help correct the problem and there is also a medication that is helpful. However, many people have a sodium level in the 120’s range and have no problems from it.

Some types of cancers produce proteins that cause sodium levels to be low. Sometimes a sodium level will drop when someone has pneumonia or any other type of lung problem, including cancer. Occasionally, cancer in the brain can cause a low sodium. Medications can also decrease sodium levels.

You can’t really say too much about the cancer based on just a sodium level, because so many “non-cancerous” conditions can affect the sodium. One needs a physical examination, other blood work, and radiographic studies to determine if the cancer is growing or shrinking.

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Response by:

Joanna M Brell, MD Joanna M Brell, MD
Formerly, Assistant Professor of Medicine
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University