Important Information About Water Poisoning
It is one of the very essentially substances of life, but too much of it can be deadly – water poisoning is a rare but serious condition that can cause death if not treated.
Water poisoning, also called water intoxication, occurs when you have drunk too much water – so much that it significantly outnumbers the electrolytes in your body. This is why sports drinks contain electrolytes – to replace those along with lost fluids, restoring the body’s natural balance.
Avoiding water poisoning is pretty easy, since it takes a lot of water to cause such an imbalance in your body. Healthy kidneys can process a liter of water per hour – or more.
How It Happens
Most cases of actual water intoxication have occurred after a person has purposely ingested huge amounts of water – like for a contest.
However, there are other ways in which someone could become ‘water drunk’. Persons suffering from gastroenteritis and other illnesses in which they are unable to take in any nutrients or electrolytes are susceptible to this. Also, people who experience vomiting and diarrhea due to illness or treatment are at greater risk and need to make sure that they are replacing lost electrolytes in conjunction with lost water.
Athletes can become intoxicated by water if they consume copious amounts of it without making sure to replace lost electrolytes as well. This also holds true for people who work long hours in the heat.
New babies are also at higher risk for water poisoning. Most pediatricians recommend that infants not be given water other than that which they receive through either their mother’s milk or infant formula. This is because their bodies are so small that even amounts of water that seem miniscule to an adult can overwhelm the delicate electrolyte balance in their cells.
Another risk factor for water poisoning is a condition called psychogenic polydipsia, where a person feels driven to drink excessive amounts of water. This is a rare disorder, but one that can easily result in water intoxication if not monitored.
The Signs of Water Poisoning
If someone has ingested enough water to cause this imbalance in the electrolyte-water ratio, they enter a state called hyponatremia – this can be followed by seizures and coma, and eventually death. Symptoms of hyponatremia include:
- Strange, uncharacteristic behavior
- Slurring, speaking gibberish
- Difficulty breathing
- Sore muscles
- Thirst – even though so much water has been ingested
Behavior is affected because drinking too much water causes cells to swell far beyond their normal capacity. When this swelling occurs in brain cells, blood flow can become severely diminished. This causes sufferers to act strangely and to become dizzy and disoriented. If this condition is sustained, permanent damage and even death can occur.
If you or someone you know has drunk excessive amounts of water and is exhibiting any of the signs on the list, seek medical attention right away.
If you haven’t had much water lately and are experiencing such symptoms, you could well be dehydrated. Dehydration is a far more common occurrence, and is also extremely dangerous. Make sure to drink several glasses of water each day.
Water intoxication is unhealthy and dangerous. Never over-hydrate for fun or as part of any test or ritual. There have been cases of college students dying after ingesting too much water as part of a fraternity initiation. Even more tragic, small children have died after being forced to drink large amounts of water as a method of punishment.