Apr 6, 2011


Can You Drink Too Much Water?

  • Apr 6, 2011
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  • Drinking too much water can lead to a condition known as water intoxication and to a related problem resulting from the dilution of sodium in the body, hyponatremia. Water intoxication is most commonly seen in infants under six months of age and sometimes in athletes. Water intoxication and hyponatremia result when a dehydrated person drinks too much water without the accompanying electrolytes.

    Water Intoxication Occurs When You Drink Too Much Water

    When too much water enters the body's cells, the tissues swell with the excess fluid. Your cells maintain a specific concentration gradient, so excess water outside the cells draws sodium from within the cells out into the serum in an attempt to re-establish the necessary concentration. As more water accumulates, the serum sodiu concentration drops -- a condition known as hyponatremia.

    Water intoxication produces the same effects as would result from drowning in fresh water. Electrolyte imbalance and tissue swelling can cause an irregular heartbeat, allow fluid to enter the lungs, and may cause fluttering eyelids. Swelling of brain tissues can cause seizures, coma and ultimately death unless water intake is restricted and a hypertonic saline solution is administered. If treatment is given before tissue swelling causes too much cellular damage, then a complete recovery can be expected within a few days.

    Problems Arise if You Drink Too Much Water Too Fast

    You are unlikely to suffer from water intoxication, even if you drink a lot of water, as long as you drink over time. As a general guideline, 8-12 eight ounce glasses a day is a common recommended intake. The bottom line is this: it's possible to drink too much water, but unless you are running a marathon or an infant, water intoxication is a very uncommon condition.

    To learn more, visit About.com.

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