Monday, June 3, 2013

How to avoid, treat hyponatremia on hike

Hyponatremia is on the rise among desert hikers, such as
those at Grand Canyon National Park.
If hiking in the desert or on an extremely humid day, beware of suffering from hyponatremia. This ailment – a low sodium blood level – has been on the rise, in fact, at Grand Canyon National Park.

Sodium helps regulate the amount of water in and around your body’s cells; when it becomes too low, your cells swell with water, creating a variety of problems such as muscle spasms/cramps, loss of balance, nausea, confusion, fatigue and even death.

In deserts, this typically occurs because the heat causes people to sweat, resulting in a loss of sodium. When hikers drink water to replace the loss fluid, they aren’t replenishing their bodies with salt and other minerals, causing the sodium to become diluted and hence low.

To prevent hyponatremia, imbibe electrolyte drinks and tablets when hiking (sports drinks don’t contain enough electrolytes and so don’t work). Also bring salty food, such as beef jerky and sodium crackers with you. Continue to drink water, however, as your body still requires it in the dry heat.

If suffering hyponatremia, seek medical attention immediately. You will need intravenous fluids, restricted water intake and monitoring.

Read more about day hiking the Grand Canyon in my Hittin’ the Trail: Day Hiking Grand Canyon National Park guidebook.