All the organs and cells in your body need water to be able to function properly therefore, you need to always replace water lost through breath, urine and sweat. If you are not drinking enough water, it can cause symptoms like muscle cramps, dizziness and fatigue.
However, drinking too much water can also lead to a serious condition known as water intoxication.
What is Water Intoxication?
Water intoxication is also known to be water poisoning and it is defined as the disruption of function of brain due to drinking of too much water. When you drink a lot of water, it increases the amount of water in the blood.
The water can dilute blood electrolytes, especially the sodium. When the sodium levels fall below 135mmol/L, it is known as hyponatremia. Sodium gives balance to the fluid between the inside and outside of your cells. And when the levels of sodium drop due to consumption of water in excess, fluid will shift from outside of the cells to the inside of the cells, causing them to swell.
When such happens to the brain cells, it can cause dangerous and potentially life-threatening effects.
Drinking Too Much Water Can Be Very Dangerous
Water intoxication or water poisoning results from the swelling of cells.
When the brain cells swell, the pressure inside the skull increases and it causes the first symptoms of water intoxication including;
In severe cases, it can produce more serious symptoms like;
• Inability to identify sensory information
• Increased blood pressure
• Muscle weakness and cramping
• Difficulty breathing
• Double vision
When there is excess accumulation of fluid in the brain, it is called cerebral edema, which can affect your brain stem and cause the central nervous system to dysfunction. Water intoxication in severe cases can cause brain damage, coma, seizures and even death.
The main point here is that drinking too much water can increase the pressure inside your skull. It can cause different symptom and be very fatal in severe cases.
Has Water Intoxication Cased Death?
Drinking too much water is difficult to happen by accident, yet many death cases have been reported due to this condition. Death cases due to water intoxication have been reported in soldiers most.
A report concerned 17 soldiers who developed hyponatremia because of excess water intake. Their blood sodium levels range between 115 and 130mmol/L while the normal range should be between 135 and 145mmol/L.
Another report showed how 3 soldiers died due to cerebral edema and hyponatemia. These deaths were associated to drinking between 2.5 and 5.6 gallons i.e. 10-20 liters of water in just a few hours.
Hyponatremia symptoms can be misinterpreted as those of dehydration. Water intoxication can also occur during sports, endurance sports in particular. Over-hydration is very common in these sport activities as a way of avoiding dehydration.
Unfortunately, many instances of water have resulted in death. A case involved one runner after a marathon. Test showed that his sodium levels were lesser than 130mmol/L. HE developed hydrocephalus and the brain stem herination, which lead to his death.
How Much Water is Too Much?
When you drink water more than what your kidney can get rid of via urine it can lead to water intoxication and over-hydration. The factor is not only the amount of water you drink but how long you take to drink the water also counts.
There is a greater risk of developing water intoxication when you drink large amount of water in a very short period. The risk is less when you drink the same amount of water over a much longer period.
The kidneys can eliminate between 5.3 and 7.4 gallons (20 to 28 liters) of water per day but can’t get rid of 27 to 33 ounces (0.8-1 liters) per hour. So, to avoid hyponatremia symptoms, you shouldn’t drink more than 27 to 33 ounces (0.8-1 liters) of water per hour.
It is wise when you don’t drink more than your kidneys can eliminate per hour.
How Much Water Do You Need?
It differs according to each person, so there is no specific amount of water you need to drink per day. You need to consider your body weight, climate and physical activity level to determine how much water you need.
IOM (The Institute of Medicine) suggests the adequate amount of water intake for men per day is 125 ounces (3.7liters), while it is 91 ounces (2.7liters) for women. These recommendations however include water from foods and beverages.
Drinking according to your body is very good. Drinking when you are thirsty should be enough for the maintenance of your hydration levels. For some people like older adults, pregnant women and athletes, they may need to drink extra water every day but should be in moderation.