Can You Die from Drinking Too Much Water?
Yes, but it’s practically impossible.
Here in the Northern Hemisphere the temperature is about to turn up. You’re about to enjoy beach season and music festivals, mountain hiking, baseball games in the hot afternoon sun, and Sunday Fundays on your favorite restaurant patios. You know it’s important to stay hydrated, especially when you’re on the go, but how much water is too much?
Maybe you’ve heard the old 8x8 rule— an eight ounce glass of water, eight times a day, and everything is A-OKAY. Rules change as science moves forward and scientific understanding increases. There is no “one size fits all” equation. As people become more aware of the healthy choices they can make for their bodies, more information for tailored health plans emerge. If you want to do the math, doctors suggest healthy people (there are some exceptions) intake anywhere from half ounce to one ounce of water for each pound you weigh, each day.
Keep in mind activity level plays a role, as does water intake from other sources like food and beverages besides water. Coffee counts, kids! Water intoxication, and the more serious Hyponatremia, occur when the sodium level in the body drops too low. Drinking too much water too fast dilutes sodium levels, and the viscous coating around cells dissolves allowing water to penetrate the cells. This brings on real medical issues that can range from mild illness to death, especially when brain cells begin to swell (edema).
However, don’t hold off on filling up that reusable bottle of water just yet. Instances of death from drinking too much water are extremely rare. Drinking too much water means that a healthy person has to drink gallons of water in a very short period of time.
Water intoxication shows up most commonly in high intensity and endurance athletes and soldiers. Sometimes psychiatric patients (schizophrenics) will drink excessive amounts of water in a short period of time. The few noted cases where hyponatremia ended in death are two girls who, after taking MDMA, drank massive amounts of water, at least one hazing incident, and an infamous radio contest (hold your wee for a Wii).
"These are very isolated cases, and this is extremely rare," says Sharon Bergquist, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. "More people by far and away are dehydrated, [rather] than having a problem with over-hydration."
Unfortunately, water intoxication can look like heatstroke or heat exhaustion.
Early signs include:
As the condition worsens:
increased blood pressure
Acute cases can result in:
YOU might just be a hero to someone this summer…
The real trick to spotting water intoxication, hyponatremia, heat stroke, or exhaustion is to make sure you know what is going on before you try to fix the problem. If you spot someone who looks like they’re experiencing trouble with heat stroke - ASK the person (or yourself) how much water they (or you) have had so you don’t add to the problem by giving them more water. Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are not related to hydration levels, they are related to temperature in the body. Water intoxication can be treated if caught in time.
Be safe this summer, and make sure you stay properly hydrated. Take care of your body and your planet by never buying a single-use bottle of water. Go green by choosing something 100% recyclable such as paper cartons of water, or the new hybrid reusable aluminum bottles from PATHWATER. Better yet, skip the trip to the market and bring that refillable container you got for your birthday. #refillnotlandfill
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