Drinking Too Much Water
Too Fast Can Be Dangerous
Like most people, you may have wondered if drinking too much water is unhealthy or even dangerous.
Is it possible to drink too much water?
The quick answer is yes, but it’s highly uncommon.
Water Intoxication and Hyponatremia
Drinking too much water too fast can lead to a condition called water intoxication. This is caused by the cells and tissues swelling with excess fluid.
Water intoxication can also lead to a related problem called hyponatremia, which is caused by the dilution of sodium in the body from excess water intake.
The excess water outside the cells draws sodium from within the cells in an attempt to balance the extra-cellular sodium concentration. This imbalance, however, can cause further swelling and damage.
Stay Away from Water-Drinking Contests
When too much water is ingested within a short period of time, such as an hour or two, the result can be fatal, as in the following tragic event reported in the news in 2007.
A 28-year-old California woman took part in a water-drinking contest that promised a free Wii video game device to the contestant who drank the most water without urinating.
In fact, the contest was entitled “Hold your wee for a Wii.” Clever, but fatal.
The woman, who was a wife and mother of three children, died shortly after she took part in the contest. Investigators estimated she drank about two gallons of water during the contest.
Signs of Drinking Too Much Water
Immediately after the water-drinking contest, the California woman had shown visible signs of distress and she complained of discomfort—but she was not taken seriously.
Tissue swelling and electrolyte imbalance can cause an irregular heartbeat, dizziness, and behaviors resembling alcohol intoxication.
Other signs may include fluttering eyelids and headache. Swelling of brain tissue can cause seizures, coma and even death if treatment is not administered quickly.
Infants and Athletes Are More Susceptible
Infants and athletes are most susceptible to water intoxication. With infants, water intoxication is most often seen under the age of six months.
It can occur if the infant drinks several bottles of water a day or drinks several bottles of formula a day that has been diluted too much.
Athletes, especially those involved in endurance-type sports, are also more likely to suffer from water intoxication. The reason for this is because athletes can lose large amounts of both water and electrolytes from excessive sweating during long or intense training sessions or events.
If an athlete becomes dehydrated from insufficient fluid replacement during an exercise session and then drinks too much water without also replenishing electrolytes (especially sodium), he/she can experience water intoxication and/or hyponatremia.
How Much Water vs How Fast You Drink It
The kidneys of most healthy adults can process up to 15 quarts of water a day!
Since most people are never going to drink anywhere near that amount, it is highly unlikely that you are ever going to become water intoxicated.
Dehydration from insufficient water intake and/or water loss affects a much, much higher percentage of people than water intoxication.
The danger of drinking too much water is not so much about how much water you drink, but how fast you drink it, as noted in the case with the California woman.
It is better to have small amounts of water frequently rather than trying to force large amounts of fluid at one time.
Thus, the bottom line is that drinking too much water is not an issue for most people—as long as one’s water intake is spread throughout the day.
Special considerations are noted for infants, athletes or other individuals with medically diagnosed conditions that require limited intake of fluids. As always, follow your doctor’s recommendations.
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