Recommendations for treatment of hyponatraemia at endurance events

Sports Med. 2004;34(4):231-8. doi: 10.2165/00007256-200434040-00003.


This review focuses on possible pathophysiology of exercise-associated hyponatraemia and its implication on evaluation and treatment of collapsed athletes during endurance events. Rehydration guidelines and field care have traditionally been based on the belief that endurance events create a state of significant fluid deficit in athletes, which must be corrected by liberal hydration. Beliefs in the necessity of liberal hydration may have contributed to cases of hyponatraemia. Assumptions that fluid loss accounts for the entire weight loss during exercise and that fluid ingestion is the only source of water gain during exercise may lead to an overestimation of the degree of volume depletion and the amount of fluid needed for replacement. Increasing evidence suggests that hyponatraemic athletes are fluid overloaded; ingestion of large amount of hypotonic fluid in combination with inappropriate or inadequate physiological responses leads to excessive retention of free fluid. Risk factors include hot weather, female sex, slower finishing time, and possibly the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications. Symptoms of hyponatraemia can be subtle and can mimic those of other exercise-related illnesses, thereby complicating its diagnosis and leading to possible inappropriate treatment. Most athletes who collapse at the finish line experience exercise-associated collapse, a benign and transient form of postural hypotension that can be treated simply by continued ambulation after finishing or elevation of legs while in a supine position for those who cannot walk. Care providers should consider the use of intravenous hydration with normal saline carefully since it is not needed by most collapsed athletes and may worsen the condition of patients with unsuspected hyponatraemia. Historic information and clinical signs of volume depletion should be elicited prior to its use. Most hyponatraemic athletes will recover uneventfully with careful observation while awaiting spontaneous diuresis. Use of hypertonic saline should be reserved for patients with severe symptoms. Moderate consumption of carbohydrate-electrolyte solution during exercise may allow the maintenance of adequate hydration and the prevention of hyponatraemia.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Hyponatremia / diagnosis
  • Hyponatremia / physiopathology
  • Hyponatremia / prevention & control
  • Hyponatremia / therapy*
  • Physical Endurance / physiology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sports