Osmolality, serum osmolality, urine osmolality, normal range & equation (2023)


  • What is serum osmolality
      • How is the osmolality test used?
    • Osmolality vs osmolarity
    • Serum osmolality equation
        • Serum osmolal gap calculation
    • Normal serum osmolality
    • High serum osmolality
    • Low serum osmolality
    • Urine osmolality
      • Normal urine osmolality
        • What is the difference between urine osmolality and specific gravity?

Osmolality is a measure of the number of dissolved particles in a fluid. A test for osmolality measures the amount of dissolved substances such as sodium, potassium, chloride, glucose, and urea in a sample of blood and sometimes in urine. Alternatively, it can be estimated from the major solutes expected to be in the blood or urine.

Osmolality is dynamic and will fluctuate as the body responds to and corrects temporary water imbalances. Serum and urine osmolality tests must be evaluated in the context of the person’s signs and symptoms and along with the findings of other tests, such as sodium, glucose, and blood urea nitrogen (BUN). Osmolality results are not diagnostic; they suggest that a person has an imbalance, but they do not pinpoint the cause.

Water balance in the body is a dynamic process that is regulated by controlling the amount of water eliminated in the urine by the kidneys and by increasing or decreasing water drinking by regulating “thirst.” In a healthy person, the body perceives and reacts to changes in the amount of water and particles in the blood.

When blood osmolality increases with a decrease in the amount of water in the blood or an increase in the number of particles such as sodium, chloride, and glucose, a gland called the hypothalamus releases antidiuretic hormone (ADH). The kidneys respond to antidiuretic hormone (ADH) by conserving water and producing urine that is more concentrated. The retained water dilutes the blood and lowers blood osmolality back to normal. This also increases blood volume and blood pressure. If this is not sufficient to restore the water balance, then thirst is also stimulated so that the affected person will drink more water.
When blood osmolality decreases, the release of antidiuretic hormone (ADH) is suppressed, the kidneys release more dilute urine, the amount of water in the body decreases, thirst is diminished, and blood osmolality increases back toward normal.

A blood (serum) osmolality test is primarily a measure of sodium dissolved in the serum (the liquid portion of blood). Sodium is the major electrolyte in the blood and urine. It works with potassium, chloride, and CO2 (in the form of bicarbonate) to maintain electrical neutrality in the body and acid-base balance. Sodium comes into the body in the diet and is normally conserved or eliminated in the urine by the kidneys to maintain its concentration in the blood within a healthy range.

(Video) Urine Osmolality vs Serum Osmolality (Hyponatraemia)

In addition to electrolytes, glucose and urea contribute to osmolality. Normally their contributions are small, but when someone has high blood glucose (hyperglycemia, as found in untreated diabetes) or high blood urea (seen in diseases such as kidney failure), their influence can be significant.

Serum osmolality is often used in cases of suspected poisoning or overdose. Toxins such as methanol, isopropyl alcohol, ethylene glycol, propylene glycol, and acetone, and drugs such as salicylates (aspirin) can also affect osmolality when ingested in sufficiently large amounts.

The osmolality of serum increases with dehydration and decreases with overhydration. The patient receiving intravenous fluids should have a normal osmolality. If the osmolality rises, the fluids contain relatively more electrolytes than water. If the osmolality falls, relatively more water than electrolytes is being administered.

A urine osmolality test primarily measures the waste products urea and creatinine. Urea and creatinine are produced and removed by the body at a relatively constant rate.

A serum osmolal gap (osmotic gap) may also be calculated. It is the difference between measured and calculated (estimated) osmolality results. In order to calculate the osmolal gap, tests for blood sodium, blood urea nitrogen (BUN), and glucose must be performed to calculate the expected osmolality. Some versions of the expected osmolality calculation also include the measurement of ethanol. An increase in the osmolal gap (greater than 10) indicates the presence of substances such as toxins, aspirin (salicylates), or mannitol.

How is the osmolality test used?

The blood osmolality test is primarily used to help determine whether a person has ingested a toxin such as methanol or ethylene glycol (antifreeze). Sometimes it may be used to investigate low blood sodium and your body’s water balance. Osmolality may be measured directly or estimated using a calculation.

Serum osmolality testing may be ordered when a person has an unexplained low blood sodium or signs and symptoms that a healthcare practitioner suspects may be due to low blood sodium such as:

(Video) Serum Osmolality (What is the Osmolarity of your plasma?)

  • Excessive thirst
  • Confusion
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Lethargy
  • In severe cases, seizures or coma

In addition to osmolality, the osmolal gap (osmotic gap) may be calculated and used to detect and/or measure toxins in the blood, such as methanol, ethylene glycol, isopropyl alcohol, and propylene glycol.

Urine osmolality may be used along with serum osmolality to help evaluate the body’s water balance and to investigate increased and decreased urination. Urine sodium and creatinine are often ordered along with urine osmolality. Sometimes a urine osmolal gap is calculated and used to help evaluate the kidney’s ability to eliminate acid and reabsorb bicarbonate, to detect the presence of osmotically active molecules, and to compare with the serum osmolal gap.

Osmolality vs osmolarity

Osmolality measures the concentration of solutes in a fluid by looking at the number of particles per weight (kilogram) of fluid (Osm/kg). Osmolarity evaluates the number of particles per volume (liter) of fluid (Osm/L). With dilute fluids, they are essentially the same, but differences will be more noticeable at higher concentrations and care must be taken when comparing them as the units for osmolality and osmolarity are not the same.

The conversion ofosmolarity intoosmolality by multiplying with the mass density of solvent in solution (kg solvent/kg solution).

Osmolarity = osmolality x (ρsol − ca)


  • ρsol is the density of the solution in g/ml, which is 1.025 g/ml for blood plasma
  • ca is the (anhydrous) solute concentration in g/ml – not to be confused with the density of dried plasma

Serum osmolality equation

Serum Osmolality (mOsm/kg H2O)= 2 x [Na+] + (Glucose/18) + (BUN/2.8) + (Ethanol/3.8)

(Video) Urine Osmolality Test | Normal Urine Osmolality Ranges | Hyponatraemia Diagnosis |

Note: Ethanol not always included. Glucose, BUN, and ethanol may be reported in mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter) or mmol/L (millimole per liter). The numbers shown in the equation above are used to convert from mg/dL to mmol/L. For mmol/L, the equation would be: 2 x [Na+] + (Glucose) + (BUN) + (Ethanol)

Serum osmolal gap calculation

Serum osmolal gap = serum osmolality (measured) – serum osmolality (calculated)

Normal serum osmolality

Normal plasma osmolality values range from 275 to 295 mOsm/kg (275 to 295 mmol/kg).

Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Some labs use different measurements or test different samples. Talk to your provider about the meaning of your specific test results.

High serum osmolality

In general, increased serum osmolality may be due to either decreased water in the blood or increased solutes. Examples of conditions in which blood (serum) osmolality may be increased include:

  • Toxic ingestion of ethanol, methanol, ethylene glycol, isopropyl alcohol or aspirin (salicylates), for example
  • Water loss (dehydration)
  • Diabetes
  • Increased nitrogen waste products in the blood (uremia)
  • Stroke or head trauma that leads to decreased antidiuretic hormone (ADH) secretion
  • Kidney damage and disease
  • Mannitol therapy–used in the treatment of brain swelling (cerebral edema)
  • Shock
  • Diabetes insipidus
  • High blood sugar level (hyperglycemia)
  • High level of nitrogen waste products in the blood (uremia)
  • High blood sodium level (hypernatremia)

Low serum osmolality

In general, a decreased serum osmolality may be due to increased fluids. Examples of conditions causing decreased serum osmolality include:

  • Excess hydration (drinking excessive amounts of water, water retention or decreased ability of the kidneys to produce urine)
  • Decreased blood sodium
  • Antidiuretic hormone (ADH) oversecretion
  • Adrenal gland not working normally
  • Conditions linked to lung cancer
  • Drinking too much water or fluid
  • Low sodium level (hyponatremia)
  • Underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism)

Urine osmolality

Urine osmolality is a measure of the concentration of osmotically active particles, principally sodium, chloride, potassium, and urea; glucose can contribute significantly to the osmolality when present in substantial amounts in urine. Urinary osmolality corresponds to urine specific gravity in nondisease states.

(Video) Osmolality Vs Osmolarity (with a mnemonic)

The ability of the kidney to maintain both tonicity and water balance of the extracellular fluid can be evaluated by measuring the osmolality of the urine either routinely or under artificial conditions. More information concerning the state of renal water handling or abnormalities of urine dilution or concentration can be obtained if urinary osmolality is compared to serum osmolality and if urine electrolyte studies are performed. Normally, the ratio of urine osmolality to serum osmolality is 1.0 to 3.0, reflecting a wide range of urine osmolality.

Urine osmolality is often evaluated in the context of how much urine the person is producing. Increased amounts of urine may be due to increased fluid intake, lack of appropriate amounts of ADH, or diabetes, with increased glucose levels leading to increased urine output. Decreased amounts of urine may be due to a variety of causes, including decreased blood flow to the kidneys, an appropriate response to dehydration, or damage to tubular cells in the kidneys.

  • When a person produces increased amounts of urine and urine osmolality is low, then the person either is ridding their body of excess fluids or is unable to concentrate urine appropriately.
  • Increased amounts of urine and a high osmolality may be seen when there is a substance being flushed from the body, such as excess glucose with diabetes.
  • If a person produces decreased amounts of urine and has high urine osmolality, then the person may be dehydrated
  • If someone produces decreased amounts of urine and has low or normal urine osmolality, the person may have kidney damage.

A urine osmolality test may be ordered along with serum osmolality testing when a health practitioner wants to compare urine results with the serum osmolality and/or when the person being tested is producing increased or decreased amounts of urine.

Examples of conditions that can cause increased urine osmolality include:

  • Dehydration
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Increased sodium
  • Inappropriate ADH secretion
  • Adrenal insufficiency/Addison’s disease
  • Liver damage
  • Shock
  • Glucose in the urine (from uncontrolled diabetes)

Examples of conditions that can cause decreased urine osmolality include:

  • Aldosteronism
  • Diabetes insipidus
  • Drinking excess fluids
  • Increased blood calcium
  • Decreased blood potassium
  • Kidney disease or kidney failure e.g., renal tubular necrosis or severe pyelonephritis

Normal urine osmolality

  • Age 0-11 months: 50-750 mOsm/kg
  • Age > or =12 months: 150-1,150 mOsm/kg

With normal fluid intake and normal diet, a patient will produce a urine of about 500 to 850 mosmol/kg water. Above age of 20 years there is an age dependent decline in the upper reference range of approximately 5 mOsm/kg/year.

The normal kidney can concentrate a urine to 800 to 1,400 mosmol/kg and with excess fluid intake, a minimal osmolality of 40 to 80 mosmol/kg can be obtained.

(Video) Urine osmolality

With dehydration, the urine osmolality should be 3 to 4 times the plasma osmolality.

What is the difference between urine osmolality and specific gravity?

Specific gravity is a common part of a urinalysis. It evaluates the weight of solids in water. Osmolality and specific gravity usually change in parallel to each other. When large and heavy molecules (such as glucose and protein) are present in the urine, however, the results will diverge. Specific gravity will be increased more, due to the weight of the molecules, while urine osmolality will be increased less, reflecting the number of molecules. Generally, osmolality is considered a more exact measurement of urine concentration than specific gravity.


What is the normal urine osmolality to serum osmolality? ›

Typically, the ratio of urine osmolality to serum osmolality is 1-3. Measuring the freezing point of urine is the most commonly used method in osmometry.

What is the normal range of osmolality in urine? ›

Normal Results

Normal values are as follows: Random specimen: 50 to 1200 mOsm/kg (50 to 1200 mmol/kg) 12 to 14 hour fluid restriction: Greater than 850 mOsm/kg (850 mmol/kg)

What is the serum osmolality equation? ›

The 1975 Dorwart and Chalmers formula, serum osmolality = 1.86(Na) + (glucose/18) + (BUN/2.8) + 9 had been often used to calculate the plasma osmolality. In 1976, Smithline and Gardner, proposed to use serum osmolality = 2(Na) + glucose/18 + BUN/1.8 as a simpler formula.

What is urine osmolality formula? ›

Urine osmolality can be predicted accurately and precisely using urine urea, sodium and glucose with the following equation: Uosm = 1.25 × urea (mmol/l) or 20.87 × urea (g/l) + 1.1 × sodium (mmol/l) + 67 × glucose (mmol/l) or 3.72 × glucose (mg/dl).

What is a normal serum osmolality? ›

Serum osmolality, which normally ranges from 275 to 295 mosmol/kg, is usually, but not always, low in patients with hyponatremia who need to be treated (table 1).

How do you interpret urine serum osmolality? ›

A urine osmolality value of less than 100 mOsm/kg indicates complete and appropriate suppression of antidiuretic hormone secretion. A urine sodium level less than 20 mmol/L is indicative of hypovolemia, whereas a level greater than 40 mmol/L is suggestive of the syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone secretion.

What serum osmolality indicates dehydration? ›

Normal values for directly measured serum osmolality, indicating euhydration, are 275 to ≤295 mOsm/kg, while 295 to 300 mOsm/kg is classified as impending dehydration, and >300 mOsm/kg as current dehydration.

What is the difference between serum osmolarity and osmolality? ›

Osmolarity and osmolality are frequently confused and incorrectly interchanged. Osmolarity refers to the number of solute particles per 1 L of solvent, whereas osmolality is the number of solute particles in 1 kg of solvent.

How do you calculate urine osmolality in humans? ›

Urine osmolality = 2*Na + K + BUN/2.8 + glucose/18. A urine osmolal gap (UOG) greater than 400 mosom/kg suggests NH4 excretion greater than 200 meq/L (kidney response to acidemia is intact).

Does high urine osmolality mean dehydration? ›

Osmolality increases when you are dehydrated and decreases when you have too much fluid in your blood. Your body has a unique way to control osmolality. When osmolality increases, it triggers your body to make antidiuretic hormone (ADH). It's also called arginine vasopressin (AVP).

What is an abnormal osmolality level? ›

Abnormal results typically fall outside the range of 275 to 295 milliosmoles per kilogram. Abnormally high blood osmolality can result from a variety of conditions, including: dehydration. diabetes insipidus.

What does low urine osmolality mean? ›

Several conditions may cause low urine osmolality, including: excessive fluid intake, or over-hydration. kidney failure. renal tubular necrosis.

What disease causes low osmolality? ›

Lower than normal levels may be due to: ADH oversecretion. Adrenal gland not working normally. Conditions linked to lung cancer (causing syndrome of inappropriate ADH production, or SIADH)

What happens if osmolality is low? ›

Low blood osmolality suppresses ADH. This reduces how much water the kidneys reabsorb. Dilute urine is passed to get rid of the excess water, which increases blood osmolality back toward normal.

Does osmolality affect thirst? ›

The thresholds for thirst activation and vasopressin release lie in the middle of the normal range of plasma osmolality. Thirst increases linearly as pOsm rises. Thus, osmotically balanced fluid administered as per a patient's sensation of thirst should result in a plasma osmolality within the normal range.

What are the three types of osmolarity? ›

Three terms—hyperosmotic, hypoosmotic, and isoosmotic—are used to describe relative osmolarities between solutions.

What is the urine osmolality for SIADH? ›

The SIADH should be suspected in any patient with hyponatremia, hypoosmolality, and a urine osmolality above 100 mosmol/kg.

What is paired urine and serum osmolality? ›

Paired serum and urine osmolality are measured in patients with abnormal sodium or water balance as the relative values can help identify the likely cause of low blood sodium, high blood sodium, high or low urine output and excessive thirst.

Which urine osmolality indicates dehydration? ›

Sports medicine equates dehydration with a concentrated urine as defined by any urine osmolality (UOsm) ≥700 mOsmol/kgH2O or urine specific gravity (USG) ≥1.020.

Is urine osmolality the same as plasma osmolality? ›

In contrast to the relative constancy of plasma osmolality of 280 to 300 mOsm/l, urine osmolality can vary from 50 mOsm/l to 1500 mOsm/l. Urine starts as an ultrafiltrate of plasma, and changes in the proportions of water reabsorption vs. urea and NaCl reabsorption determine the osmolality of the final solution.

What test confirms SIADH? ›

How is SIADH diagnosed? In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, to confirm diagnosis of SIADH, blood and urine tests will need to be performed to measure sodium, potassium, and osmolality (concentration of solution in the blood and urine).

What labs are abnormal with SIADH? ›

Laboratory findings in patients with SIADH may show hyponatremia (sodium <135 mEq/L) and low serum osmolality (< 280 mOsm/kg). Patients with SIADH have elevated urinary sodium level (> 20 mMol/L) and urine osmolality (generally > 100 mOsm/L).

What is urine osmolality in diabetes insipidus? ›

With NDI, urine osmolality is typically < 200 mOsm/kg (200 mmol/L) despite clinical signs of hypovolemia (normally, urine osmolality is high in patients with hypovolemia). If osmolality is > 300 mOsm/kg (300 mmol/L), solute diuresis is likely. Glucosuria and other causes of solute diuresis must be excluded.


1. Osmolality Nursing Considerations, Normal Range, Nursing Care, Lab Values Nursing
2. Estimating Serum Osmolality using a Simple Formula
3. How to calculate Urinary Osmolality from Urinary Specific Gravity- A Simple Trick
(Pediatrics with Dr Syed Kazmi)
4. Calculated Osmolality
(Medicosis Perfectionalis)
5. Syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone (SIADH)
(Osmosis from Elsevier)
6. Urine Osmolality and Urine Specific Gravity
(VetVine Hub)
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