When it comes to water, how much is too much? You know that you need lots of H20 to be healthy and keep your body functioning, but did you know that you can drink too much and put your system in danger? It’s called water intoxication, and it can be deadly.

Stories of Deadly Encounters With Water Intoxication

Take, for instance, Chico State University student Matthew Carrington. According to CBS News, Carrington joined the Chi Tau house fraternity in 2005, and he was taking part in their hazing rituals for entry. He had to drink a five-gallon bottle of water.

The student was only 21 years old, but this much water was too great for his system to handle. Carrington developed hyponatremia, which according to the National Library of Medicine, is a condition where the body takes in an abundance of water, and the sodium levels drop rapidly. The fluid is absorbed into the bloodstream rather than eliminated, and the water makes its way to the brain.

Another example of this becoming a deadly tragedy occurred with Jennifer Strange, according to NBC News. She entered a radio contest to win a gaming system. She had to see how much water she could drink without going to the restroom.

The contest was promoted as “Hold Your Wee for a Wii.” But the 28-year-old would never take such a risk had she known better. She had three children and was trying to win the gaming console as a gift for her kids.

  • Can water be so dangerous that drinking too much can cause death?
  • Can you drink too much without knowing it?
  • How much is too much?

These are all questions that stories like this make people wonder, especially those who are trying to hydrate their bodies when doing strenuous physical activity and labor-intensive jobs.

water intoxication

What Causes Water Intoxication?

It’s often referred to as water poison, but you should know that it’s infrequent. The average person will get such a condition by just drinking a few bottles each day. The problem occurs when you take on significant amounts of water, and your system cannot flush it out quickly enough.

All the excess liquid has nowhere to go, so it backs up and enters the bloodstream. Once it enters the blood, it travels to every part of your system. However, the most dangerous part is your brain.

Your body has electrolytes that are responsible for keeping your cells ionized. When water floods these cells, your electrolyte balance becomes off-kilter. Have you seen sports drinks that restore your potassium, sodium, and magnesium?

These are all part of your vital electrolytes that are necessary for your body to function. Now, too much water in a short period can be toxic. Additionally, when it enters the brain, it can cause swelling. However, sports drinks are mostly made from water, so while they help some with electrolytes, they can also cause water intoxication.

Five People Most Susceptible to Water Intoxication

You’re not in any danger of drinking more water than your system can handle by just consuming a few bottles each day. However, the real threat comes in when you’re exercising or doing a labor-intensive job that is causing you to chug to rehydrate. The chances of you dealing with water intoxication are scarce, though it does happen. Here are a few situations where being intoxicated by too much water becomes a reality.

1. People Who Have Mental Health Issues Are More Prone to Water Intoxication

Who knew that there was a mental health condition where people felt compelled to drink water? Psychogenic polydipsia is a mental illness in which people feel the urge to hydrate their bodies, and they can’t seem to get enough. According to the National Library of Medicine, This mental health issue comes with other psychiatric conditions, like bipolar and schizophrenia, so it usually doesn’t occur alone.

Caregivers must watch for any symptoms of drinking a lot of water in a short period or hyponatremia symptoms.

2. Athletes – Specifically Runners

While any athlete can become intoxicated by ingesting water, usually runners experience it. In this instance, it’s called dilutional hyponatremia, and it doesn’t just happen to those who drink water, but it drinking sport’s drinks won’t save you.

In 2002, a study was conducted and reported on the National Library of Medicine after the Boston Marathon. Officials found that more than 13 percent of the participants suffered from water intoxication.

3. Workers Who Overexert Their Bodies

There are many situations where you sweat and try to replace the water lost in the body. However, it’s hard to gauge how much you’ve consumed when you still feel thirsty. For instance, someone doing a roofing job in the heat of summer is at significant risk, especially if they don’t monitor their intake.

While replacing some of that water is essential, it’s also important to maintain electrolyte balances.

4. Infants Are Subject to Water Intoxication

One of the biggest reasons infants are at risk is their low body mass index. Intoxication by water is typically seen with babies under one year of age. When a young child consumes a great deal of water compared to their body mass, it can put their sodium storage out of balance, which can cause an intoxicated state.

5. Unconscious Persons

When a person is in a coma or otherwise unconscious, they receive hydration through intravenous lines. Some examples of this would be patients using a nasogastric tube. The medical team must make sure to balance the fluids given so that there is no electrolyte loss. They co-administer water.

When individuals have a medical condition, like diabetes insipidus, they’re more likely to process the fluids more rapidly than someone who doesn’t have such a disorder. According to Diabetes Insipidus information, it causes a person to have a great thirst that requires water. However, they urinate more due to the increased water intake, which leaves the electrolytes unbalanced.

water intoxication

Six Telling Signs Of Water Intoxication

How do you know if you’ve drunk more water than is safe? Are there symptoms that you can identify that show you’re over the limit? Here are some of the most common indications of intoxication by water.

1. Colorless Urine

Your urine should have some color to it, even if it’s just a pale straw hue. However, when your urine has no color, it’s concerning. If you’ve drunk more than eight or ten glasses of water, and have clear urine, get to a doctor.

2. Headaches

Most people don’t know that a headache is a sign of dehydration. When you get a headache, you reach for an over-the-counter treatment. However, it’s often the drink of water that helps more than the aspirin.

If you have a pounding headache and have consumed a lot of water, it can signify being intoxicated by water.

3. Frequent Urination

The average person should urinate around 6-8 times each day. Anything more than urinating ten times per day is a sign that you’re flushing electrolytes too.

4. Swelling of Hands, Feet, Legs

Massive amounts of water cause the cells in your body to expand, which your swollen extremities can identify. Not only will you see swelling in your hands and feet, but you will also see them turn a different color due to a loss of circulation.

5. Muscle Weakness

When there’s an electrolyte imbalance in the body, it will cause things like cramping and muscle spasms. A little bit of coconut water or a sport’s drink can help put things back in balance.

6. Exhaustion

When your body overloads on water, your kidneys must work overtime to flush your system. Anytime one of your organs is working more than it should, it can cause you to be fatigued. Even having the energy to get out of bed may be too much, so this is certainly something to watch.

Other things to watch for include these:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dilated pupils
  • Bradycardia, or a slowed heart rate
  • Pulmonary edema

water intoxication

Final Thoughts on Water Intoxication

Few people know that there’s something to drinking more water than your body needs. When you’re involved in sports or working outside, drinking more water to hydrate your body seems only natural. While, in theory, this is true, you must remember that your body has a delicate balance of electrolytes that cannot be disturbed.

Have you ever heard someone say that they needed to eat a banana because their potassium was low? Potassium is one of the main electrolytes, as well as sodium. Actual water intoxication is rare, but the cases don’t make the media as much as other illnesses, but it doesn’t mean it exists.

As long as you drink the recommended water intake for your weight and height, you shouldn’t have any problems. The actual issue is that most people don’t get enough water, let alone too much. However, there are times and situations where this can become a threat. If you’re one of the people at risk, knowing the intake limits and watching for any symptoms is critical.