Hypernatremia: When Table Salt Becomes Poison

Even good things can be bad in excess. I was always taught that moderation is the key in all things.

Is it ok to drink that glass of wine? Yes. Is it ok to drink that bottle of wine? Not by yourself.

Is it ok to do cardio if you have asthma? Of course, but don’t ignore your body’s warning signals.

Can I do hot yoga if my multiple sclerosis is activated by heat? That sounds like a recipe for disaster. Stick to the yoga classes without the heater.

Disastrous things can happen when you drink too much, exercise excessively, or put yourself into a situation that with a surplus of something that is normally considered a good thing.

Something like that happened a few years ago and got national news. A mother poisoned her son with salt. Excess salt rarely has immediate ramifications, but it did for him because of a rare condition: hypernatremia.

Hypernatremia literally means too much (hyper-) sodium (natrio) condition (-mia).

Sodium is one of the primary elements in salt. If there is too much salt in a person’s bodily cells, a dangerous water imbalance is created.

When large quantities of water are lost from sweating, urinating, or any other way, the cells try to regulate by passing water through the cell walls. Unfortunately, the sodium in the water cannot pass through, which causes an abundance of the mineral in the cells themselves.

Most often, hypernatremia is the result of complications from surgery or medical treatment. Fortunately, it is reasonably easy to manage with fluids and NOT introducing extra salt or sodium into the system. Hospitals are on the lookout for this condition, so it is rarely life-threatening.

The case mentioned above involved the death of a five-year-old boy. It was tragic and devastating for everyone involved. Lacey Spears appears to have been suffering from Munchausen syndrome by proxy, a mental disorder characterized by loved ones inventing or causing illnesses to illicit sympathy and attention from friends and family.

Her son Garrett, was in and out of hospitals frequently. He visited dozens of doctors, but it was not until after his death while in the hospital that a complete medical record was finally compiled. His mother was tried for his murder in 2015, a little over a year after Garrett died.

She was found guilty, though her attorneys never brought up the mental illness as a defense, choosing instead to place the blame on the hospital’s inadequate care.

Garrett’s death and Lacey’s poisoning of her son were only possible because of the feeding tube that was implanted several years earlier and the hypernatremia that she created from prolonged administration of salt.

Read more about how table salt became a murder weapon by clicking here.

Follow us