What Is Magnesium Sulfate? - Formula, Uses & Side Effects

Instructor: Ian Lord

Ian has an MBA and is a real estate investor, former health professions educator, and Air Force veteran.

In this lesson, we will discuss the chemical formula of magnesium sulfate as well as its more common name. Its medical uses and side effects will also be explored.

Magnesium Sulfate

Magnesium sulfate is commonly used in both hospital and home settings. Better known as Epsom salt, it is a naturally occurring inorganic chemical compound. The name Epsom salt comes from a certain spring in Epsom, England, where magnesium sulfate is produced. Let's take a look at its chemical structure, medicinal uses, and side effects.

Chemical Formula

The chemical formula for magnesium sulfate is MgSO4. A magnesium sulfate molecule is composed of a magnesium atom, a sulfur atom, and four oxygen atoms. Below is a diagram of what magnesium sulfate looks like at the molecular level.

Magnesium Sulfate Configuration


Magnesium sulfate has several external and internal uses for both adults and children. Let's look at them now.

External Uses

You probably best know Epsom salt for its use as a bath salt. In this role, it has both cleansing and anti-inflammatory effects on the body, and can even help draw splinters out of the skin. The crystals can be purchased over the counter and added to water as directed.

Adult Internal Uses

Whether administered as an intravenous injection or taken orally, magnesium sulfate has a variety of medicinal uses for adult illnesses. First, it is an effective treatment for hypomagnesemia. With this condition, the blood has an abnormally low level of magnesium. Injections of magnesium sulfate can help return blood magnesium levels to normal.

Certain pregnancy-related complications can also be treated with magnesium sulfate. It can help prevent seizures associated with preeclampsia. Off-label treatment--an unofficial (but not illegal) use of the medication--can stop preterm labor.

When a patient has torsades de pointes, a certain kind of abnormal heart rhythm, magnesium sulfate helps return rhythms to normal.

Due to the fact that it increases water in the intestines, it can also be used as directed for occasional constipation.

Pediatric Internal Uses

Magnesium sulfate is also an appropriate treatment for a few pediatric illnesses. As with adults, it can be used to treat cases of hypomagnesemia. It can also be used to treat acute-onset nephritis, a condition where a child's kidneys have sudden inflammation. Magnesium sulfate has also shown success in off-label treatment of bronchospasm, the sudden constriction of the bronchioles within the lungs.

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