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What is Magnesium Sulphate?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated Feb 26, 2024
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Magnesium sulphate is a chemical compound containing a mixture of magnesium, oxygen, and sulfur. It has a wide range of medical applications, as well as uses in other settings, and is produced commercially by a number of pharmaceutical companies. In addition to being sold for use in hospitals and clinics, usually in a format designed for injection, it is also available over the counter in formulations like Epsom salts.

Clinically, magnesium sulphate can be used in the treatment of people with low magnesium, a potentially fatal electrolyte imbalance. It is also used in pregnant women to treat seizures, pre-eclampsia, and preterm labor, where it may be administered with other medications to stabilize the patient. Children with severe kidney disease may be treated with magnesium sulphate, among other medications, and it can also be administered as a laxative, treatment for certain kinds of poisoning, and treatment for heart arrythmias.

Patients can receive too much of this drug, causing low blood pressure, circulatory collapse, and problems with the central nervous system. Dosages must be carefully calculated, considering the weight of the patient, as well as the patient's kidney health, because magnesium sulphate is expressed through the kidneys. Overdoses can be fatal, sometimes extremely rapidly.

There are also some uses for this medication in dermatology. People with irritated skin sometimes find that soaking in Epsom salts eases pain and soreness, in addition to addressing dryness and inflammation. Magnesium sulphate has a dehydrating effect and may be applied to skin lesions to dry them out, as seen in the treatment of warts. People with irritation around the genitals, including genital warts and anal fissures, sometimes soak in a sitz bath with a mixture of magnesium sulphate to increase their comfort.

If a doctor recommends magnesium sulphate, it is advisable to ask why it is being prescribed and how it should be used. People using it at home should make sure to store it in a dry place well out of reach of children and pets, as they could ingest it and become very ill. In cases where people use this compound therapeutically at home and experience issues like dizziness, fatigue, or fainting, they should discontinue use and consult a doctor, as it is possible they may have absorbed a dangerous amount through the skin. With hydration to help the kidneys clear it, the patient can usually correct the electrolyte imbalance and return to a healthy state.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By umbra21 — On Nov 27, 2011

@croydon - Roses and some other plants like tomatoes and peppers really like magnesium, so it's a good idea to give them a bit of epsom salt. I would be careful about how much I added to the soil though, if you want to follow in your grandfather's footsteps. Look up what the ratios should be, or you might end up putting in too much of a good thing.

Personally, I use a bit of magnesium sulphate in my aquarium. It's a reef tank, so the corals need a bit of the compound to form properly.

Again, it's difficult to get the amounts right. You don't want to put in too much a poison everything in the water.

By croydon — On Nov 27, 2011

@browncoat - It's not just your imagination.

One of the reasons they include magnesium sulphate in bath salts, particularly at spas and places like that, is because it stops your hands and feet from going as wrinkly as they usually might.

I mean, it's only a temporary effect anyway, so I don't personally see what difference it makes if the bathers get wrinkly fingers, but maybe if someone is going straight afterwards to an event they might want to avoid it.

There's all kinds of things the salts can be used for. I know my grandfather used to add them to roses, but I'm not sure why he did that. His roses were always very beautiful though, so it must have been doing some good.

By browncoat — On Nov 26, 2011

Epsom salts are a really good staple to have in your bathroom cabinet. Even if you don't have particularly itchy skin, it can be nice to add them to a bath now and then, as a softener.

And I find they are really useful for when I have sore feet.

I have a little tub that I fill with hot water and then add the salts and sit there for about an hour. It takes away a bit of the swelling and just generally makes my feet feel better.

I've noticed it softens them a bit too, which is always nice.

My feel never seem to wrinkle as much when I use the salts though. Is that just my imagination?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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