The hyponatremia of exercise may exist in symptomatic and asymptomatic forms. Symptomatic hyponatremia is usually characterized by severe alterations in cerebral function including coma and grand ma1 seizures; it develops especially in less competitive athletes who have maintained high rates of fluid intake during endurance events lasting at least 5 hours. The hyponatremia becomes symptomatic when the volume of excess fluid retained exceeds 2 to 3 liters. The etiology of the condition is unknown. Possibly as many as three or more pathologies (abnormal fluid retention possibly due to inappropriate ADH secretion, abnormal regulation of the extracellular fluid volume, translocation of sodium into a "third space") must be present for symptomatic hyponatremia to develop. The avoidance of overhydration would appear to be the only certain way that susceptible individuals can prevent symptomatic hyponatremia. Sodium chloride containing solutions ingested in physiologically significant concentrations would likely prevent a possible "third space" effect.
Timothy D. Noakes is with the MRC/UCT Bioenergetics of Exercise Research Unit, Dept. of Physiology, University of Cape Town Medical School, Observatory, 7925, South Africa.