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HYPONATREMIA (water intoxication)

We are constantly told, “Make sure and drink plenty of Water.” The military is continuously reminding soldiers to, “Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate”. It appears as if the reminder to drink water is everywhere we turn. It is not uncommon to walk down grocery store aisles and see complete rows of shelves filled with bottled water. Water is so en vogue that water bottling companies create sexy looking bottles along with attractive sounding names in order to entice consumers into purchasing water, or at least their bottled water. While it is important that our bodies get plenty of water, there does exist a danger in drinking too much.

Hyperhydration is, as it’s name indicates, an excessive intake of water. Drinking too much water can lead to water intoxication, otherwise known as hyponatremia– a condition of low sodium in the blood. The proper transmission of nerve impulses, along with proper muscle function, requires a proper balance of sodium in the blood. A slight depletion of sodium can cause problems.

Hyponatremia is prevalent with athletes involved in high endurance sports. In April, 2005 the New England Journal of Medicine published a study whose findings showed 13 percent of Boston Marathon runners developed hyponatremia from drinking too much water.

Signs and Symptoms

Oddly, some of the signs and symptoms are equivalent to those of dehydration including nausea, muscle cramps, disorientation, slurred speech, and confusion. Many people, experiencing these symptoms, drink more water, thinking they are dehydrated. To their detriment, however, water alone will increase the problem of hyponatremia. In extreme cases, a person suffering of severe hyponatremia can experience seizures, coma, or even death.


As soon as the symptoms are evident, a person should drink a sodium containing sports drink, such as Gatorade, or eat salty foods. The old standby of taking salt tablets is not advocated, as the concentration levels of sodium is too high.

So, the next time you are told to watch that fluid intake, really do consider how much water you are consuming. Everything in moderation.