Exercise-Associated Hyponatremia in Marathon Runners

J Clin Med. 2022 Nov 16;11(22):6775. doi: 10.3390/jcm11226775.


Exercise-associated hyponatremia (EAH) was first described as water intoxication by Noakes et al. in 1985 and has become an important topic linked to several pathological conditions. However, despite progressive research, neurological disorders and even deaths due to hyponatremic encephalopathy continue to occur. Therefore, and due to the growing popularity of exercise-associated hyponatremia, this topic is of great importance for marathon runners and all professionals involved in runners' training (e.g., coaches, medical staff, nutritionists, and trainers). The present narrative review sought to evaluate the prevalence of EAH among marathon runners and to identify associated etiological and risk factors. Furthermore, the aim was to derive preventive and therapeutic action plans for marathon runners based on current evidence. The search was conducted on PubMed, Scopus and Google Scholar using a predefined search algorithm by aggregating multiple terms (marathon run; exercise; sport; EAH; electrolyte disorder; fluid balance; dehydration; sodium concentration; hyponatremia). By this criterion, 135 articles were considered for the present study. Our results revealed that a complex interaction of different factors could cause EAH, which can be differentiated into event-related (high temperatures) and person-related (female sex) risk factors. There is variation in the reported prevalence of EAH, and two major studies indicated an incidence ranging from 7 to 15% for symptomatic and asymptomatic EAH. Athletes and coaches must be aware of EAH and its related problems and take appropriate measures for both training and competition. Coaches need to educate their athletes about the early symptoms of EAH to intervene at the earliest possible stage. In addition, individual hydration strategies need to be developed for the daily training routine, ideally in regard to sweat rate and salt losses via sweat. Future studies need to investigate the correlation between the risk factors of EAH and specific subgroups of marathon runners.

Keywords: epidemiology; exercise; hyponatremia; marathon; review; risk factors; runners; sports medicine.

Publication types

  • Review

Grants and funding

This research received no external funding.