Syndrome of Inappropriate Antidiuretic Hormone

Written by Ann Pietrangelo
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on June 7, 2013

Syndrome of Inappropriate Antidiuretic Hormone Overview

Antidiuretic hormone (ADH) is produced by an area of the brain called the hypothalamus. The hormone is stored in and released by the pituitary gland. ADH controls how your body releases and conserves water.

When ADH (also called vasopressin) is produced somewhere other than the hypothalamus, the condition is called syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone (SIADH).

In addition to making it harder for your body to release water, SIADH can result in lowered levels of electrolytes like sodium. Early symptoms may be mild and include cramping and nausea. In severe cases, SIADH can cause confusion, seizures, and coma.

A variety of conditions can trigger abnormal ADH production, but the main cause is cancer. It is frequently one of the first signs of lung cancer.

Treatment usually begins with limiting fluid intake to prevent further buildup. Additional treatment will depend on the cause.

Another name for the syndrome is “ectopic ADH secretion.”

Symptoms of SIADH

SIADH makes it difficult for your body to get rid of excess water. This causes a buildup of fluids as well as abnormally low sodium levels, a condition known as hyponatremia.

Symptoms may be mild and vague at first, but tend to build. Severe cases may involve these symptoms:

  • irritability and restlessness
  • loss of appetite
  • cramps
  • nausea and vomiting
  • muscle weakness
  • confusion
  • hallucinations
  • seizures
  • stupor
  • coma

Causes of SIADH

Cancer, especially lung cancer, is the most common cause of SIADH. SIADH is often one of the first symptoms of lung cancer.

SIADH can also be caused by tumors of the head or neck. Other triggers for SIADH include:

  • diseased or damaged hypothalamus
  • encephalitis (inflammation of the brain)
  • Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) (immune system disorder)
  • heart failure
  • lung disease
  • meningitis (inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord)
  • trauma to the head

Diagnosing SIADH

Doctors will ask for a patient’s complete medical history and current symptoms. Doctors should know whether a patient is taking over-the-counter or prescription medications or supplements. Diagnosis usually begins with a physical exam. Often, a urine sample is also required.

Blood tests, specifically one called an ADH test, can the measure circulating ADH levels in the blood. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), normal values for ADH range from 1-5 picograms per milliliter (NIH, 2011). Higher levels could be the result of SIADH. 

Following diagnosis of SIADH, the next step will be to identify the condition that caused it to occur.

Treatment for SIADH

The first line of treatment is to limit fluid intake to avoid further buildup. Medications may include those that can reduce fluid retention, such as furosemide (Lasix), and those that can inhibit ADH, like demeclocycline.

Any underlying medical conditions must be treated. If a patient is diagnosed with cancer, treatment may include surgical removal of a tumor or tumors, chemotherapy, and radiation.


A patient’s prognosis will depend on the cause of SIADH.

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