What is salt craving?
Salt craving is a compelling or extreme desire to consume salt or salty foods. Craving for salt results from a decrease in sodium in the body either from inability to retain salt or the excess loss of sodium from the body. Salt craving is common during pregnancy. Craving for salt is also a common symptom of Addison’s disease (decreased production of hormones by the adrenal glands), dehydration, and electrolyte imbalances.
Depending on the cause, your salt craving may last only as long as it takes to rehydrate following mild dehydration from heavy sweating. It may also be a permanent symptom, as is found with Addison’s disease, and may be accompanied by other symptoms or signs including low blood pressure (hypotension), fatigue, loss of appetite, and chronic diarrhea.
Left untreated, salt craving due to severe dehydration is a serious condition. Severe dehydration and electrolyte imbalances can result in shock or coma and may be life threatening. Seek immediate medical care ( call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have symptoms of severe dehydration, such as confusion or loss of consciousness for even a brief moment, lethargy, cold skin, or inability to urinate or reduced urine output.
What other symptoms might occur with salt craving?
Salt craving may accompany other symptoms, which will vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the need for salt intake may also involve other body systems.
Dehydration symptoms that may occur along with salt craving
Salt craving may accompany symptoms related to dehydration including:
- Cold skin
- Decreased urine output
- Dry mouth
- Feeling very thirsty
- Irritability and mood changes
- Muscle spasms
- Rapid heart rate (tachycardia)
Addison’s disease symptoms that may occur along with salt craving
Salt craving may accompany Addison’s disease symptoms affecting multiple systems. These symptoms include:
- Chronic or persistent diarrhea
- Dark patches on the skin
- Loss of appetite
- Mouth sores on inner sides of cheeks
- Muscle weakness
- Nausea with or without vomiting
- Pale skin or pallor
- Severe fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
Other symptoms that may occur along with salt craving
Salt craving may accompany other symptoms, which can affect other systems. These symptoms include:
Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition
Salt craving that accompanies dehydration may be so severe that a life-threatening situation can develop. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of the following symptoms:
What causes salt craving?
Salt craving is a compelling or extreme desire to consume salt or salty foods. Craving for salt is a common symptom of Addison’s disease (decreased production of hormones by the adrenal glands), dehydration, and electrolyte imbalances. It can also be seen in rare kidney disorders. Craving for salt results from a decrease in sodium in the body from either an inability to retain salt, such as with Addison’s disease, or the loss of sodium, such as occurs with excessive sweating and fluid loss or dehydration. Salt craving is common during pregnancy.
To make the increased salt ingestion more palatable, salt may be "chased" with lemon juice. Increased thirst for iced liquids is often reported.
Common causes of salt craving
Salt craving may have common causes including:
Addison’s disease (decreased production of hormones by the adrenal glands)
Dehydration (loss of body fluids and electrolytes, which can be life threatening when severe and untreated)
Serious or life-threatening causes of salt craving
In some cases, salt craving may be a symptom of severe dehydration characterized by loss of body fluids and electrolytes, which can be life threatening when untreated and should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting.
Questions for diagnosing the cause of salt craving
To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your salt craving including:
When do you feel a salt craving?
How long have you felt a craving for salt?
Do you have any other symptoms?
What medications are you taking?
Do you have Addison’s disease?
Because salt craving can be due to serious dehydration, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:
Acute renal (kidney) failure