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Can Drinking Too Much Water Kill You?

It’s strange, but true, drinking too much water can kill you.

Drinking water is essential to our health. It plays significant role in many of our body’s functions, including bringing nutrients to cells, getting rid of wastes through urination, perspiration and bowel movements, lubricating and protecting joints and organs, and keeping body temperature normal. Since water is your body’s principal chemical component and makes up about 60% of your body weight, you should always stay hydrated as much as possible. But, sometimes, drinking too much water can lead to water intoxication.

Earlier, this year, an Indian mom of two died from water toxicity, after guzzling four 16oz bottles in just 20 minutes. Ashley Summers, at age of 35, died from water poisoning shortly after spending a leisurely day at Lake Freeman over the long fourth of July weekend. She had felt lightheaded and had a headache, which are symptoms of dehydration, but no amount of water could satiate her thirst. When she returned home, she collapsed in her garage, having suffered severe brain swelling. She never regained consciousness. The doctors diagnosed her with water intoxication, also called hyponatremia, which develops as a result of there being too much water in the body and when the concentration of sodium in your blood is abnormally low.

drinking too much water

What is the effect on your body when you are drinking too much water in a short amount of time?

Excess water in the body causes the body’s salt levels to go down and the cells to swell. This swelling causes them to grow in size, and those in the brain press against the skull. The pressure can cause a headache that throbs and can cause brain impairment and trouble breathing. Sodium is the crucial electrolyte that helps keep the balance of fluids in and out of cells. When it is affected by overhydration, leads to hyponatremia. When sodium levels drop due to a high amount of water in the body, fluids get inside the cells. When your cells swell, you’re at risk of having seizures, going into a coma, or even dying.

What are the symptoms of water intoxication?

If you were to drink too much water in short time, your are not giving your body enough time to utilize it and flush it out. In this case you might experience the following symptoms, all of which are associated with of excessive total body water content or hyperhydration:

  • Severe headaches
  • Muscle cramps and weakness
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Drowsiness and fatigue

If left untreated, water intoxication can result in seizures or loss of consciousness. Without treatment, water intoxication can result in death.

How much water will lead to a water intoxication?

There is currently a lack of research on water intoxication. Due to this, it’s not clear how much water would be required to lead to an overdose.

According to a new 2013 study, the symptoms of water intoxication typically show up when a person consumes more than about 3-4 liters of water (that’s 12-16 cups) over a period of a few hours.

Another case report showed that symptoms of water intoxication occurred when soldiers consumed 1.9 liters (or 8 cups) of water per hour.

It really takes a lot of water to cause hyperhydration. It is possible to get sick or possibly die from too much water, but it’s not exactly easy to reach that point.

Drinking a couple of glasses when you’re feeling extra thirsty won’t cause any serious health problems. Still if you feel like you are needing to much water in a short period of time, then you should always go see your doctor. Also, if you have a specific medical condition that led to you becoming overly hydrated (such as a kidney problem, reaction to medications, or serious electrolyte imbalance), consult a medical professional as soon as possible.

drinking too much water

How much water do you need in a day?

Every day you lose water through your breath, perspiration, urine and bowel movements. For your body to function properly, you must replenish its water supply by consuming beverages and foods that contain water. But it is quite difficult to calculate the amount of water you need to drink daily. That’s because hydration needs are far from one-size-fits-all.

In general, according to The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, an average, healthy adult’s daily water intake is:

  • About 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids a day for men
  • About 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for women

These recommendations cover fluids from water, other beverages and food. About 20% of daily fluid intake usually comes from food and the rest from drinks. Remember, drinking alcohol is dehydrating and does not count as fluid. Soda beverages do contain water, but they are not a healthy choice.

You might need to modify your total fluid intake based on several factors, such as:

  • Exercise. If you exercise regularly, it’s important to drink water before, during and after a workout, to cover the fluids loss.
  • Environment. In a hot weather, you should drink more water.
  • Overall health. Drink more water or follow a doctor’s recommendation to drink oral rehydration solutions when you have a fever, vomiting or diarrhea.
  • Pregnancy and breast-feeding. If you are pregnant or breast-feeding, you may need additional fluids to stay hydrated and healthy.