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How Drinking Too Much Water Can Kill You

Updated on January 17, 2018
Essential to life
Essential to life | Source

Water intoxication

It is true, water poisoning exists. Also known as dilutional hyponatremia. Though it may seem strange, the concept behind being killed by drinking too much water is easy to understand. A healthy person is recommended to drink at least 8 glasses of water a day to keep the body hydrated and functioning properly. Water detoxifies our body through the processes of urination, sweating, bowel movement, and even crying. Drinking water also keeps our body temperature at a safe level.

So how can something so essential to my body, kill me? The cells in our body require mineral salts or electrolytes in order to function properly. Electrolytes also play a vital role to ensure that your nerve, heart, and muscle functions operate correctly. These sodium compounds tend to dissolve when there is an excessive intake of water, disrupting the balance of electrolytes in the body. When the natural balance of electrolytes is pushed out of safe limits, certain bodily functions get impaired, affecting up to the person's brain.


The stages of water intoxication

When there is too much water in the body, our cells absorb the water in order to increase the sodium concentration in our body fluids. In turn, the cells start to swell and become severely damaged. When brain cells swell, they tend to burst due to the thick skull surrounding the brain, restricting any more movement, Ultimately causing death.

A person suffering from water intoxication will exhibit one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Blurred vision
  • Severe headache
  • Exhaustion
  • Muscle pain
  • Dulled senses
  • Impairment of body coordination
  • Unable to think clearly

Water torture in history

Forced ingestion of water is a form of human torture that was used a long time ago. It was also referred to as Water cure.

  • It was used against the Filipinos by the American soldiers during the Philippine-American war.
  • Water cure was legalized in France during the 17th and 18th centuries.
  • Forced ingestion of huge amounts of water was used by Spain during the Spanish Inquisition.
  • Water torture was also used as an interrogation technique.
  • The Japanese used water torture against the Chinese and Americans during WWII.


Who's at risk of water intoxication?

  1. Infants
    Children with low body mass are more susceptible to water poisoning. Some children are forced to drink large amounts of water as punishment by unaware adults.
    3-year old Rosita Gonzalez died of water intoxication when her babysitter forced her to drink roughly 3 liters of water as punishment.
  2. Runners
    Participants in endurance sports such as running in a marathon are at risk of water intoxication due to continuous consumption of water during the course of the sport.
    2002 Boston Marathon participant Cynthia Lucero died of water intoxication.
  3. Fraternity hazing participants
    Forced consumption of water can be unforgiving. It was also used as an initiation rite.
    Matthew Carrington, a student at California State University,
    21, died of consuming huge amounts of water as an initiation rite.
  4. Water-drinking competitions
    Drinking large quantities of water was also involved in contests, usually when the contest hosts are unaware of the potentially lethal consequences of drinking too much water.
    Jennifer Strange from Rancho Cordova, California died hours after a water-drinking contest at a radio station. Civil charges were filed against the alleged station.
  5. Suicidal people
    Water intoxication can be used as a medium of suicide in cases where other means(such as a gun) deemed inaccessible.


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    • profile image

      Jim 2 years ago

      If I did that are you guaranteed death

      By water I could drink that much how fast is death

    • Meo Antolin profile image

      Romeo Antolin 4 years ago from Philippines, Asia

      @lumeire - Because I can. Haha. It was a learning experience for me. :)

    • lumeire profile image

      lumeire 4 years ago

      @Meo Antolin - Why did you even tried to consume 5L in an hour?

      Yeah I didn't know drinking too much can kill you.

    • Mahir Maric profile image

      Mahir 4 years ago from Bosnia and Herzegovina

      i think the balance is the key but it is hard to achieve it, interesting hub

    • Meo Antolin profile image

      Romeo Antolin 4 years ago from Philippines, Asia

      A few days ago I was asking around about this subject, most people think it's dumb. I even tried to consume roughly 5 liters of water within an hour, and I did experience blurred vision, confusion, and weakness. However, I felt better a few hours after I stopped. I think a healthy person would need to drink 8-10 liters of water before the lethal effects of water would take place.

    • JG11Bravo profile image

      JG11Bravo 4 years ago

      No one ever believes me when I tell them about this. I found the historical instances particularly interesting.