The Perils of Overhydration; When Drinking Water Goes Wrong
Water, the elixir of life, sustains us in numerous ways. It constitutes about 60% of our body mass, covers a vast portion of the Earth's surface, and is fundamental to the existence of most organisms. However, despite its vital role in our lives, there's a dark side to hydration, one that most people are unaware of called water intoxication.
While our body mass is 60% water, it is not immune to the negative effects of excessively drinking water or anything at all. You see, while we can drink water at different times of the day, drinking excessive water within a short period of time can be very dangerous leading to water intoxication. Toxic as we know refers to whatever is harmful, so then you ask why people refer to alcoholics as being intoxicated by alcohol? Well, the answer is simple. Alcohol is dangerous to our health, and our body does everything it can to keep us alive after ingesting it. This is just the same as water intoxication because your body fights to regulate the effect of the water.
Water intoxication can lead to symptoms such as confusion, disorientation, nausea, and vomiting, and in cases where it is severe, it can lead to swelling in the brain and apparently death. In 2007, Sacramento radio station sponsored a water drinking contest which lead to the death of Jennifer Strange. She had taken lots of water (about 7.6 liters) in a sitting.
On a regular day, it is pretty difficult for a person to drink a lot of water to the extent that they will become intoxicated since our bodies will start to give signs that we are overhydrated. Also, we can overcome cases of accidental overhydration being that our body would expel water as we engage in physical activities. When people are dehydrated, they can overhydrate but then how come they do not die from overhydration. This is because as long as you can expel water from the body, you can take them in but then how much water can your kidneys expel.
The kidney is responsible for water expelling in the body, and the kidneys can only expel about 0.8 liters of water per hour, and when people take in excessive amounts of water, the kidney would not be able to filter them as quickly as it should. When there is a lot of water in the body, the concentration of electrolytes such as sodium is reduced and when a person has a low sodium level of less than 135mmol/l, then the person starts suffering from hyponatremia, as sodium and other electrolytes help to balance fluid in the body.
When the blood sodium levels drop below normal, fluids travel from the less sodium blood to the higher sodium blood causing them to swell as they try to reach equilibrium, but this can also reach the brain cells allowing them to swell leading to cerebral edema. Cerebral edema can lead to seizures, brain damage, coma, and death.
Treating hyponatremia presents challenges, including Osmotic Demyelination Syndrome (ODS), where brain cells swell, rupturing the myelin sheath. Correcting the sodium level too rapidly can expose the patient to the risk of ODS. The treatment involves administering saline (saltwater) to increase sodium levels and using diuretics to help excrete excess water.
While I was feeling dehydrated today, I wanted to take about 1 liter of water, but then I pressed the purse button, to check if I was doing it right. Actually, I was extremely dehydrated but ingesting 1 liter of water at once looked like a big deal, so I decided to take a little, so I could feel fine and do an extensive reading on water intoxication. Anyways, I ended up drinking not up to 50cl of water after my entire reading.