Water Intoxication—drinking too much water too fast

Late last year I had to take my Mom to the ER due to feeling so weak and lethargic and have been having diarrhea, nausea and vomiting the whole day. When we got to the hospital they found out that her sodium level was way too low. Her diagnosis is called hyponatremia which means low sodium level in the blood, a potentially fatal condition if not corrected right away. The reason? Drinking too much water too fast.

The issue boils down to sodium levels. One of sodium’s jobs is to balance the fluids in and around your cells. Drinking too much water causes an imbalance, and the liquid moves from your blood to inside your cells, making them swell. Swelling inside the brain is serious and requires immediate treatment.

Although it is not common, drinking too much water can be life threatening. When your kidneys can’t excrete the excess water, the sodium content of your blood is diluted. When a person drinks too much water too fast, the amount of water in the body rises which causes the cells to swell. The condition can quickly lead to swelling in the brain, seizure and coma.

Every day you lose water through your breath, perspiration, urine and bowel movements. For your body to function properly, you must replenish its water supply by consuming beverages and foods that contain water.So how much water is too much? Studies have produced varying recommendations over the years. Study shows that the development of hyponatremia can occur with water intake of 2.5-5.6 gallon or 10-20 liters of water in just a few hours.

About 20 percent of daily fluid intake usually comes from food and the rest from drinks. Study shows that the recommended water intake that will cover fluids from other beverages and food is:

  • About 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids for men
  • About 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for women
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