Exercise-associated hyponatraemia: a mathematical review

Sports Med. 2005;35(10):899-922. doi: 10.2165/00007256-200535100-00005.


In 1958, Edelman and colleagues empirically showed plasma sodium concentration ([Na+]p) to be primarily a function of the sum of exchangeable sodium and potassium (E) divided by total body water (TBW). Based on Edelman's equation, Nguyen and Kurtz derived an equation to show how [Na+]p changes as a function of TBW, change in TBW (DeltaTBW), and change in the sum of exchangeable sodium and potassium (DeltaE). Using the Nguyen-Kurtz equation, the present study examines the sensitivity of [Na+]p to these parameters: [Na+]p is very sensitive to DeltaTBW and moderately sensitive to DeltaE, and is modulated by TBW. For example, for a person with 50 L TBW, a net increase of 1L water lowers [Na+]p by 3.2 mEq/L, but for a person with 25 L TBW it lowers [Na+]p by 6.3 mEq/L (assuming initial [Na+]p is 140 mEq/L). In each case, a loss of 159 mEq of sodium plus potassium (roughly equivalent to 1.5 teaspoons of table salt) would be required to produce the same effect as the net increase of 1 L water. The present review demonstrates why fluid overload predominates over electrolyte loss in the aetiology of exercise-associated hyponatraemia (EAH), and why the excretion of electrolyte-dilute urine is highly effective in correcting EAH (nonetheless, loss of sodium and potassium is significant in long events in warm weather). Sports drinks will, if overconsumed, result in hyponatraemia. Administration of a sports drink to an athlete with fluid overload hyponatraemia further lowers [Na+]p and increases fluid overload. Administration of either a sports drink or normal (0.9%) saline increases fluid overload.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Body Water / metabolism
  • Exercise*
  • Humans
  • Hyponatremia / etiology*
  • Hyponatremia / therapy
  • Mathematics
  • Potassium / metabolism
  • Sodium / metabolism


  • Sodium
  • Potassium