Why Does Water Intoxication Occur & How Can You Prevent Water Intoxication?

Drinking water is beneficial for overall health. All the cells and the organs in the body need water to function properly. But, just like excess of anything is bad, the same applies to water.

Other terms used for water intoxication are hyperhydration, water toxemia, and water poisoning.

Why Does Water Intoxication Occur?

Why Does Water Intoxication Occur?

Drinking too much water leads to a drop in blood sodium concentration. This is known as hyponatremia. Drinking excessive water, more than the kidneys can flush out, dilutes the sodium in the bloodstream, causing the cells to swell.(1)

Water intoxication is commonly seen occurring in those involved in intense physical activity such as military training or running a marathon. Most of the time water intoxication has been reported occurring in soldiers.(3,4)

Water intoxication has been found occurring often during major sports events.(5,6)

It can also occur due to excessive water consumption in those with an underlying health condition or forced consumption in the form of abuse. Psychiatric patients are also seen suffering from water intoxication.(7,8)

Water intoxication has also been linked with the use of MDMA drug. MDMA has a tendency to raise body temperature and make you drink lots of water. Drinking water is good but MDMA can also cause water retention. This causes excess fluid build up in the body.

Symptoms of Water Intoxication

Water intoxication symptoms start appearing within a few hours of drinking excessive water.

The Potential Symptoms Of Water Intoxication Include:

  • Head pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Drowsiness
  • Fatigue
  • Cramping sensation
  • Spasms and weakness in the muscles

There can also be a disruption of brain function because of excess water intake.(2) This can lead to dangerous and life-threatening effects.

Severe Symptoms of Water Intoxication Include:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Inability to identify sensory information
  • Double vision

In very severe cases water intoxication can lead to seizures, brain damage, coma, and even death.

How Much Water Intake Is Too Much?

How Much Water Intake Is Too Much?

  • The risk of water intoxication occurs when you drink a large quantity of water in a short period of time.
  • Kidneys can eliminate 5.3-7.4 gallons of water in a day, but cannot get rid of 27-33 ounces in an hour.9 This is why in order to avoid hyponatremia more than .8-1 liter should not be consumed in an hour.
  • When the body wants water you feel thirsty, which can be enough to maintain good hydration levels.
  • However, in pregnant females, older adults and lactating women this rule would not apply as they need to drink extra water.

How Can You Prevent Water Intoxication?

  • If you think you are drinking excessive water in a short period of time, there are few tips which can be followed to avoid water intoxication.
  • Sticking to drinking water only when you feel thirsty is the first basic rule. Stop when you feel quenched. Drink again when thirsty.
  • Urine color is also an indication. Clear urine might be a sign that you are overdoing water. It doesn’t mean clear urine is bad, but it can indicate that you need not drink any water for a while.
  • Those doing intense workouts should hydrate their body with electrolyte water that contains sodium.
  • Dying from drinking water is a rare condition but it is important that you keep a tab on how much you drink.
  • If really required also count in the electrolytes needed to avoid water retention.
  • If concerned about the water intake, it is good to speak with the healthcare provider to get more specific recommendation according to the overall health, size and other factors.

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