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Water Intoxication Signs and Symptoms - Too Much Water is Dangerous

Updated on October 4, 2013
Drink water for your health but not too much!
Drink water for your health but not too much! | Source

There are many things in life where we are told how good it is for us and it seems like we can never have enough of it. So, what happens when you have too much of a good thing? Sometimes it can result in death. This article is not to scare you, but for you to be aware of when something is so far in excess, it can be dangerous. Moderation is the key to everything.

What is Water Intoxication?

Water intoxication is sometimes called water poisoning or dilutional hyponatremia. It is basically an imbalance of electrolytes and water. Either there is too few electrolytes in your body's cells from over activity and overexertion or too much water in the cells from over-hydration or a combination of the two. This condition disturbs proper brain functioning and can lead to death.

A cell placed in a hypotonic solution. The water will rush into the cell to balance out the water-solute concentrations.
A cell placed in a hypotonic solution. The water will rush into the cell to balance out the water-solute concentrations. | Source

How Does Water Intoxication Happen?

To understand water intoxication, you need to understand a little something about the movement of solutes (electrolytes and nutrients) and water into and out of our bodies' cells.

The body wants to create a balance between the amount of solutes and water in a cell and outside of the cells. When there is more fluid outside the cell with a low concentration of solutes, the fluid is known as hypo-tonic. When you drink a bunch of water all at once, you are causing the fluid outside of your body's cells to be hypo-tonic. When a cell is placed in a hypo-tonic solution, the water outside of the cell rushes into the cell via osmosis to balance out the concentration of solutes to water. This causes the cell to expand and eventually burst. The swelling of the brain cells is what causes the observable signs and symptoms of water intoxication.

A Short Video Explaination

Signs & Symptoms of Water Intoxication

Initial Signs & Symptoms

  • Headache
  • Personality change
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Muscle weakness
  • Twitching
  • Cramping
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Thirst
  • Dulled senses/ loss of feeling

Extreme/ Late Signs & Symptoms

  • Bradycardia (heart rate under 60 beats per minute)
  • High (wide) pulse pressure
  • Swelling of the brain
  • Central Nervous System dysfunction
  • Seizure
  • Coma
  • Death

How to Avoid Water Intoxication

If you are completing a very strenuous, continuous activity or sport; you are better off not drinking water during the extended activity. This is because your body is already losing electrolytes during this activity. You don't want to compound the problem by adding extra fluids into the body without replacing some of the electrolytes lost. Your best option it to drink some form of a sports drink like Powerade or Gatorade.

Don not participate in any water drinking contests. Do not chug water after a long or difficult workout. Sip water throughout the day to stay hydrated and not risk over-hydrating.

Actual Events of Death From Water Intoxication

Jan. 12, 2007 Jennifer Strange died competing in a radio contest in which she had to drink an 8oz. glass of water every 15 minutes and couldn't go to the bathroom.

October 12, 2002 Rosita Gonzalez, 3 years old, died of water intoxication when she was forced to drink three quarts of water in a four-hour period.

2008 Jacqueline Henson died after drinking four liters of water in under two hours as part of her diet plan.

September 12, 1999 Micah J. Schindler died of heat stroke, made worse by water intoxication, two days after getting sick during a 5.8 miles march in Air Force Basic Training.

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    • madisonelise profile image

      Madison Elise 4 years ago from Virginia

      I guess this would qualify as too much of a good thing. What an informative article.