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A doctor should be called when a person becomes confused, drowsy, or inattentive. Persons should also consider calling a doctor when a person experiences blurred vision, muscle cramps and twitching, paralysis on one side of the body, poor coordination, nausea and vomiting, rapid breathing, sudden weight gain, or weakness.
Before treatment can begin, a doctor must determine whether an individual's symptoms are due to overhydration, in which excess water is found within and outside cells, or excess blood volume, in which high sodium levels prevent the body from storing excess water inside the cells. Overhydration is characterized by excess water both within and around the body's cells, while excess blood volume occurs when the body has too much sodium and cannot move water to reservoirs within the cells. In cases of overhydration, symptoms of fluid accumulation do not usually occur. On the other hand, in cases of excess blood volume, fluid tends to accumulate around cells in the lower legs, abdomen, and chest. Overhydration can occur alone or in conjunction with excess blood volume, and differentiating between these two conditions may be difficult.
Mild overhydration can generally be corrected by following a doctor's instructions to limit fluid intake. In more serious cases, diuretics may be prescribed to increase urination, although these drugs tend to be most effective in the treatment of excess blood volume. Identifying and treating any underlying condition (such as impaired heart or kidney function) is a priority, and fluid restrictions are a critical component of every treatment plan.
In people with severe neurologic symptoms, fluid imbalances must be corrected without delay. A powerful diuretic and fluids to restore normal sodium concentrations are administered rapidly at first. When the person has absorbed 50 percent of the therapeutic substances, blood levels are measured. Therapy is continued at a more moderate pace in order to prevent brain damage as a result of sudden changes in blood chemistry.
Author Info: L. Fleming Fallon Jr., MD, DrPH, Thomson Gale, Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Children's Health, 2006This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your healthcare provider. Please consult a healthcare professional with any health concerns you may have.
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