Preventing neurological complications from dysnatremias in children

Pediatr Nephrol. 2005 Dec;20(12):1687-700. doi: 10.1007/s00467-005-1933-6. Epub 2005 Aug 4.


Dysnatremias are among the most common electrolyte abnormalities encountered in hospitalized patients. In most cases, a dysnatremia results from improper fluid management. Dysnatremias can occasionally result in death or permanent neurological damage, a tragic complication that is usually preventable. In this manuscript, we discuss the epidemiology, pathogenesis and prevention and treatment of dysnatremias in children. We report on over 50 patients who have suffered death or neurological injury from hospital-acquired hyponatremia. The main factor contributing to hyponatremic encephalopathy in children is the routine use of hypotonic fluids in patients who have an impaired ability to excrete free-water, due to such causes as the postoperative state, volume depletion and pulmonary and central nervous system diseases. The appropriate use of 0.9% sodium chloride in parenteral fluids would likely prevent most cases of hospital-acquired hyponatremic encephalopathy. We report on 15 prospective studies in over 500 surgical patients that demonstrate that normal saline effectively prevents postoperative hyponatremia, and hypotonic fluids consistently result in a fall in serum sodium. Hyponatremic encephalopathy is a medical emergency that should be treated with hypertonic saline, and should never be managed with fluid restriction alone. Hospital-acquired hypernatremia occurs in patients who have restricted access to fluids in combination with ongoing free-water losses. Hypernatremia could largely be prevented by providing adequate free-water to patients who have ongoing free-water losses or when mild hypernatremia (Na>145 mE/l) develops. A group at high-risk for neurological damage from hypernatremia in the outpatient setting is that of the breastfed infant. Breastfed infants must be monitored closely for insufficient lactation and receive lactation support. Judicious use of infant formula supplementation may be called for until problems with lactation can be corrected.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain Diseases / etiology
  • Brain Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Demyelinating Diseases / etiology
  • Demyelinating Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Fluid Therapy
  • Humans
  • Hypernatremia / complications
  • Hypernatremia / epidemiology
  • Hypernatremia / etiology
  • Hypernatremia / mortality
  • Hypernatremia / physiopathology
  • Hypernatremia / prevention & control*
  • Hypernatremia / therapy
  • Hyponatremia / complications
  • Hyponatremia / epidemiology
  • Hyponatremia / etiology
  • Hyponatremia / mortality
  • Hyponatremia / physiopathology
  • Hyponatremia / prevention & control*
  • Hyponatremia / therapy
  • Hypotonic Solutions / adverse effects
  • Isotonic Solutions
  • Postoperative Complications
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Sodium Chloride / administration & dosage
  • Sodium Chloride / therapeutic use*
  • Water-Electrolyte Balance


  • Hypotonic Solutions
  • Isotonic Solutions
  • Sodium Chloride