Have you heard of water intoxication? It occurs when you accidently drink too much water. It is also known as water poisoning and hyperhydration. The interesting thing about it is that it is a rare condition – under normal conditions. An extreme example of how this can develop comes from drinking contests where high quantities of fluid are consumed in a short period of time.
What causes water poisoning is an imbalance between water and electrolytes. When excessive water is consumed in a short period of time without enough electrolytes also consumed, it creates this imbalance. The imbalance can affect brain function and sometimes results in death.
Long distance runners and extreme sports participants are susceptible to water intoxication just from drinking too much water when exercising. The symptoms result in athletes who consume high volumes of liquid forcing the sodium level in their body to drop. The threshold level has been pegged at 135 mmol/L and less. This is why organized endurance races have several checkpoints and provide participants with liquids other than just water. Sports drinks containing electrolytes are a common solution to preventing hyperhydration from happening.
In fact, even if you are not an athlete you still risk contracting water poisoning. If you are involved in any activity where overexertion results in heavy sweating or work in high heat climates, you will need to replace lost fluids. By just drinking water can reduce your body’s sodium to an unsafe level. Staying hydrated should include some kind of electrolyte replacement to prevent the symptoms of water intoxication from developing.
This is also why hospitals are careful to monitor fluid levels when an unconscious patient is being fed with an intravenous source. The balance that has to be maintained will equal that of fluids and electrolytes lost by the patient, even when they are unconscious. If they are not monitored and a proper balance is not maintained, the risk of developing hyperhydration increases.
So when you find yourself sweating excessively from an activity or due to climate conditions, remember to be safe by hydrating your body by replacing fluids. The most important thing to do is to mix the amount of water you drink with some form of electrolyte replacement. This can be easily achieved by adding a sports drink to you fluid replacement routine and you will never experience the symptoms associated with water poisoning.