Water intoxication: Why over-drinking can cause fluid overdose and prove fatal

Summer is here, meaning almost every health expert advising the pro-tip to drink plenty of water in order to stay hydrated. But is it possible to drink too much water, to the point of intoxicating yourself? Turns out it is, in fact, a lesser known problem that can lead to fluid overdose and imbalance in your blood.

Studies show that drinking too much of water can intoxicate your body and result in low sodium and potassium levels, which can lead to fainting, nausea, and vomiting. In some cases, it can cause brain swelling, which can prove to be fatal.

This is primarily explained by the fact that drinking more than one liter of water per hour can strain the kidneys and the heart, which causes the overhydration in the body.

Apart from causing water retention which causes to weight gain, here are the other adverse effects of water intoxication:

1. Hyponatremia

Drinking too much of water can drastically lower the sodium levels in the body below the healthy minimum of 135 mmol/L, which triggers hyponatremia. The warning symptoms of the condition are heat strokes, exhaustion, and headaches.

It is most commonly seen in athletes who drain a lot of sodium in their body through sweating. In certain critical cases, drinking excessive water has been reported to dilute the sodium density in the body, resulting in deaths among athletes.

2. Cells swell

The two main electrolytes in our system – potassium and sodium – are responsible for maintaining the fluid balance between the cells and the blood. Drinking excessive water disrupts this balance and causes fluids to enter the cells, which leads to swelling of cells.

When this happens to brain cells – especially to neurons in restricted spaces – it can lead to headaches, seizures, brain injury, coma and even death.

3. Hypokalemia

The potassium in our system is responsible for moving ions in and out of the cells, thus helping the nervous system trigger cell functions such as muscle contraction and relaxation.

Excessive amounts of water can deplete the magnesium in our body, which in turn disrupts the potassium levels, rendering it unable to enter cell storage. The kidney then starts flushing the excess potassium out of the body, triggering hypokalemia, which results in low energy levels, muscle cramps, intestinal distress and muscle spasms.

4. Strain the kidneys

Drinking excess water can strain the kidneys into having to work overtime to filter out the excess water from the system. It leads to a stress reaction from the hormones, which makes one feel tired and fatigued easily.

5. Overwork the heart

Excessive water consumption leads to increase in blood volume and even seizures in some cases. This leads to stretching the heart muscle fibers, resulting in heart failures.

So what are the normal levels of hydration one should stick to?
Speaking to Deccan Chronicle, Dr Anil Ballani, a consultant physician from India shared: “In summers drinking 2.5 to 3 liters of water per day is sufficient.” For alternative sources of hydration, “eating fruits like watermelon, grapes, raspberry, banana, pineapple and other fresh seasonal fruits and juices,” can help, he added.

Another consultant internal medicine specialist from India, Dr L. Vaishali, also shared with Deccan Chronicle: “Water intake is different for those who are suffering from kidney or heart disease. They must follow the instructions of the doctor as they are at risk of getting breathless due to water logging in the lungs.

So, go by your thirst alone when it comes to water consumption in the summer. Only in exceptional cases of increased physical activity, consume more water to balance the electrolytes in your system.