Hyponatraemia is a common bio-chemical abnormality, occurring in about 15% of hospital inpatients. It is often associated with severe illness and relatively poor outcome. Pathophysiologically, hyponatraemia may be spurious, dilutional, depletional or redistributional. Particularly difficult causes and concepts of hyponatraemia are the syndrome of inappropriate antidiuresis and the sick cell syndrome, which are discussed here in detail. Therapy should always be targeted at the underlying disease process. 'Hyponatraemic symptoms' are of doubtful importance, and may be more related to water overload and/or the causative disease, than to hyponatraemia per se. Artificial elevation of plasma sodium by saline infusion carries the risk of induction of osmotic demyelination (central pontine myelinolysis).