Excessive Water Drinking
And Hyponatremia

By Merlin Hearn

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marathon runners

In 2007, a California radio program held a promotion. The person who could drink the most water without making a trip to the bathroom would win a Nintendo Wii. 

Hours after the contest, Jennifer Strange was found dead in her apartment. The culprit—an empty jug of water. 

Jennifer died from excessive water drinking, which led to a condition called water intoxication, or hyponatremia (the medical term for salt depletion).

Hyponatremia is a condition where the amount of sodium in the blood is much lower than normal.

Though rare in occurrence, people can die from excessive water drinking, primarily by drinking too much water too fast.

This is rare and someone who drinks eight or even twelve glasses of water a day does not have to worry. Normally, our bodies can process up to 15 litters of water a day.

Water Intoxication or Hyponatremia

Hypnotremia stems primarily from an electrolyte imbalance. The most essential electrolytes in our body include sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium and phosphate.

Sodium is the most important electrolyte to replenish if we drink a large amount of water for any reason. It is essential for our bodies to be able to circulate fluid in and out of the cells. 

When we drink too much water too fast, it dilutes the sodium in our cells. In response, our cells let in an excessive amount of water in search for more sodium, which results in the cells swelling in size. 

Many cells can take this increase in size. However, brain cells, constricted by the skull, can burst open and the person dies. 

Who Is at Risk

People who are most at risk for experiencing the ill effects of water intoxication include:

  1. Infants.  Infants are at risk because they have a low body weight, and when they drink too much water in proportion to their overall weight, it can cause hypnotremia.
  2. Endurance athletes.  Endurance athletes, such as marathon runners and triathletes, lose an excess amount of electrolytes when running long distances and if not carefully tended, the act of drinking water can flood their low-sodium cells.
  3. People with severe dehydration. People suffering from extreme dehydration, often caused by an illness or overheating, have lost a large amount of water and electrolytes in a quick amount of time. 

Signs and Symptoms of Hyponatremia

If caught in time, it is possible to reverse the effects of hypnotremia. To do this, we have to know the symptoms and what to do.

According to the Mayo Clinic, some of the signs of hyponatremia often include:

  • Low energy or fatigue
  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Muscle cramps or muscle weakness

In severe cases, hypnoatremia can lead to unconsciousness, coma, or death.  

Since this condition can be life-threatening, call your health care provider right away if you have any of these symptoms.

Treatment for this condition will depend to a large extent on the cause but may include receiving fluids through an IV, medication, or water restriction. Thus it is important to get a professional diagnosis before self-treating.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The average reader should not worry too much about excessive water drinking. Proper hydration is critical to general health and wellness.

The majority of people will suffer much more from chronic dehydration than from the rare case of water intoxication.

If you space your water drinking throughout the day and do not engage in binge (water) drinking, you have little to worry about.

Just remember that water intoxication is a danger when excessively high levels of fluid are lost and are then replaced only with water (without added electrolytes).  

If you are a parent, be mindful of how much water your infant is drinking and don’t dilute the baby formula too much.  If your children are involved with sports lasting more than an hour or so, be sure they are getting an electrolyte-enhanced beverage, preferably homemade.

Endurance athletes and anyone who is involved in strenuous physical activity, especially in hot temperatures, should learn how to maintain water electrolyte balance in the body. You can read more on proper hydration tips for sports and fitness here.

If you experience a condition that can cause severe dehydration, such as intense or prolonged diarrhea or vomiting, heart failure, kidney disease, or liver cirrhosis, work with your health care provider to ensure you are maintaining water and electrolyte balance in your body.


MayoClinic.com: Hyponatremia Risk Factors

Return from Excessive Water Drinking to Drinking Enough Water

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