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Side Effects of Too Much Salt Intake

By Lori Newell ; Updated August 14, 2017

The body needs some sodium to help to regulate the amount of water in in the body and for the muscles to work correctly. It must also be present for the nervous system to send signals between the brain and muscles. Most Americans eat more salt than is required, which is no more than 2,300 mg a day for healthy individuals and less than 2,000 mg for those with certain diseases. This amount is the equivalent of one teaspoon of salt. To help to prevent complications, it is important to learn to recognize the side effects of too much salt intake.

Fluid Retention

If sodium levels start to get too high, the kidneys will usually excrete the excess amount. However, if salt intake is too high for the kidneys to keep up with or if the kidneys are not functioning correctly, sodium levels can build, states the Mayo Clinic. This in turn causes the body to retain fluid, which can lead to edema or swelling. Every case is different; some individuals are more sensitive to salt and develop symptoms with very little intake, while others can eat more with no problems.

High Blood Pressure

Frozen, processed and food from restaurants are the main sources of sodium in the diet. As sodium levels rise and the body retains more fluid, blood pressure and the risk for a heart attack or stroke go up with it, warns the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since high blood pressure can exist without ever causing symptoms, it is important to have it checked often. This way, modifications to sodium intake can be made before blood pressure gets dangerously high.

Changes in Urination

Hypernatremia is the medical term for a high level of sodium in the blood. It can occur in response to not having enough water in the body, which can happen when there is excessive water loss from exercising in extreme heat, prolonged diarrhea or vomiting, or when not drinking enough water. The changes in urination that happen are dependent upon the cause of sodium buildup, claims the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. If due to dehydration or water loss, urine output will decrease and the urine will be dark yellow. If a high sodium level is due to kidney disease, urination will be more frequent and it will be clear.


According to Merck, one of the first signs of a very high level of sodium is thirst in patients who are conscious. Very high levels can affect the brain and lead to difficulty coordinating muscle movements, weakness and in severe cases, the patient may go into a coma. If hypernatremia continues untreated, it can become fatal.

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