Serum Sodium

Updated: Sep 11, 2018
  • Author: Fazia Mir, MD; Chief Editor: Sridevi Devaraj, PhD, DABCC, FAACC, FRSC, CCRP  more...
  • Print

Reference Range

Measurement of serum sodium is routine in assessing electrolyte, acid-base, and water balance, as well as renal function. Sodium accounts for approximately 95% of the osmotically active substances in the extracellular compartment, provided that the patient is not in renal failure or does not have severe hyperglycemia. 

The reference range for serum sodium is 135-147 mmol/L, [1]  although different assays establish their own reference ranges, which may differ slightly. For the Architect c System that runs integrated chip technology (ICT) sodium, potassium,and chloride assays, the reference range for serum sodium is 136-145 mmol/L. [2]



Conditions associated with increased serum sodium (hypernatremia) include the following [3] :

  • Inadequate water intake
  • Gastrointestinal losses of hypotonic fluid - Through vomiting, nasogastric drainage, enterocutaneous fistula, osmotic diarrhea (lactose, malabsorption)
  • Renal losses of hypotonic fluid - Central or nephrogenic diabetes insipidus, loop diuretics, osmotic diuresis (glucose, urea, mannitol), postobstructive diuresis, polyuric phase of acute tubular necrosis (ATN), intrinsic renal disease
  • Hypertonic sodium gain - Hypertonic saline or bicarbonate, hypertonic feeds (total parenteral nutrition [TPN], tube feeds), ingestion of NaCl or sea water, hypertonic enemas or dialysis, primary aldosteronism or Cushing syndrome
  • Other losses - Insensible (skin, respiratory), burns, excessive sweating 

Diverse conditions are associated with decreased serum sodium (hyponatremia); these have been classified in various ways to improve diagnostic accuracy. [4]  One popular classification first advises the exclusion of pseudo-hyponatremic conditions, by checking serum osmolarity first. True hyponatremia is associated with serum hypo-osmolarity. Iso-osmolar "hyponatremia" (hyperlipidemia, paraproteinemia) and hyper-osmolar "hyponatremia" (eg, diabetic ketoacidosis [DKA], mannitol use) may be associated with a normal sodium concentration in the plasma water volume; however, since laboratory values are given for total plasma volume, the presence of other osmotically active particles will lead to the reporting of a lower sodium value. 

True hypo-osmolar (Posm < 275 mEq/L) conditions can be further classified based on volume status and urine sodium excretion [4] :

  • Normovolemic conditions - Syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone secretion (SIADH), reset osmostat, hypothyroidism, adrenal insufficiency, thiazide diuretic use, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) use, renal failure, psychogenic polydipsia; urine osmolarity is < 100 mOsm/L only in psychogenic polydipsia and is >100 mOsm/L in all other conditions
  • Hypervolemic/edematous conditions - Congestive heart failure (CHF), nephrotic syndrome, cirrhosis, renal failure; with the exception of renal failure, urine sodium is < 10 mEq/L in all conditions; it is >20 mEq/L in renal failure 
  • Hypovolemia/dehydrated conditions - Gastrointestinal (GI) losses (excessive vomiting or diarrhea), skin losses, and third spacing [as in pancreatitis]; urine Na is < 10 mEq/L in all of these conditions; other hypovolemic, hyponatremic conditions may have urine Na >20 mEq/L, such as diuretic use, salt-wasting nephropathy, and hypoaldosteronism.

Collection and Panels

There are various laboratory methods for the determination of serum/plasma sodium; some have the limitation of the electrolyte exclusion effect, as they measure sodium in the whole sample volume, resulting in falsely low sodium readings in the presence of hyperproteinemia or hyperlipidemia. These methods include flame photometry and indirect ion-selective electrode method (ISE).  Other methods, such as direct ISE, gas electrodes, or freezing-point depression method, measure sodium in the water phase and are thus not subject to the electrolyte exclusion effect. Most clinical chemists have reached the conclusion that direct ISE methods are best; however, two-thirds of laboratories still use the indirect ISE method, and for uniformity of reference values, the direct ISE sodium result is modified (flame mode) to be comparable to the result from indirect ISE. [5]

Specifics for collection and panels are reported for the Architect c System (indirect ion-selective electrode method) as follows [2] :

  • Specimen type - Blood serum or plasma
  • Container - Serum can be collected into glass or plastic bottles, with or without gel barriers; for plasma, lithium heparin is an acceptable anticoagulant; sodium heparin should be avoided
  • Collection method - Standard venipuncture technique
  • Specimen volume - 15 μL of serum/centrifuged plasma is the minimum volume for ICT assay
  • Panels - Serum electrolytes, basic metabolic panel, complete metabolic panel

Related tests are as follows:

  • Serum chloride
  • Serum potassium
  • Serum bicarbonate
  • Serum osmolality
  • Blood urea nitrogen (BUN)
  • Plasma glucose
  • Urine electrolytes
  • Urine osmolality
  • Aldosterone
  • Antidiuretic hormone (ADH)



Measurement of serum sodium is routine in assessing electrolyte, acid-base, and water balance, as well as renal function. Sodium accounts for approximately 95% of the osmotically active substances in the extracellular compartment, provided that the patient is not in renal failure or does not have severe hyperglycemia. 

The body requires only 1-2 mmol/d of sodium intake, and average daily intake in adults ranges from 90-250 mmol/d. The excess is excreted by the kidneys, which carefully regulate the extracellular sodium level under hormonal influences. Specifically, it is the reabsorption of the last 5-10% of the renally filtered sodium load in the distal tubules via the Na/K and Na/H pumps, under the influence of aldosterone, that primarily affects the amount of sodium excreted in the urine. [5]


Indications for testing of serum sodium/serum electrolytes are as follows:

  • Routine evaluation
  • Assessing water balance
  • Assessing acid-base balance
  • Heart failure
  • Renal disease
  • Hepatic disease
  • Signs or symptoms of hypernatremia (anorexia, nausea or vomiting, altered mental status [lethargy, irritability, stupor, coma], musculoskeletal symptoms [twitching, hyperreflexia, ataxia]) 
  • Signs or symptoms of hyponatremia (anorexia, nausea or vomiting, altered mental status [difficulty concentrating, confusion, lethargy, agitation], headache, seizures) 


Drugs that can increase serum sodium include lithium (nephrogenic diabetes insipidus) and NSAIDs (renal impairment).

Drugs that can decrease serum sodium include diuretics (renal loss of sodium) and various iatrogenic causes of SIADH, including cyclophosphamide, carbamazepine, oxcarbazepine, vinca drugs, antipsychotics, and tricyclic antidepressants. [4]