Salt Craving

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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:

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:

Other symptoms that may occur along with salt craving

Salt craving may accompany other symptoms, which can affect other systems. These symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Missed menstrual periods
  • Muscle cramping
  • Muscle weakness
  • Perspiration

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:

  • Change in level of consciousness or alertness, such as passing out or unresponsiveness
  • Cold skin
  • Decreased urine output
  • High fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Severe dizziness or sudden loss of balance

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)

  • Electrolyte imbalance

  • Pregnancy

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?

What are the potential complications of salt craving?

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

  • Coma

  • Shock

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Nov 10
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Addison’s disease. PubMed Health, a service of the NLM from the NIH. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001416/.
  2. Adrenal insufficiency and Addison’s disease. National Endocrine and Metabolic Diseases Information Service. http://endocrine.niddk.nih.gov/pubs/addison/addison.htm.
  3. Bope ET, Kellerman RD (Eds.) Conn’s Current Therapy. Philadelphia: Saunders, 2013.
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