Drinking the Right Amount of Water
In order for human cells and organs to function properly, we need an adequate amount of water in our bodies. Since nearly all activities cause people to lose water, it's essential to replenish our water levels. The standard rule for water replenishment is the 8x8 method: eight ounces of water, eight times a day. However, other dietary recommendations, such as those from the Institute of Medicine, recommend 13 cups a day for men and 9 cups a day for women. The exact amount of water that people should consume each day depends on factors such as body weight, level of activity and diet.
While hydration is absolutely essential to a healthily functioning body, too much water, especially over a short period of time can be dangerous and even fatal. If a person drinks more water than her kidneys can excrete, the overall electrolyte level in the blood will drop significantly and the excess water can enter and swell your brain cells, resulting in a potential seizure and/or coma.
The Mechanics of Water Intoxication
One of the most serious results of too much water consumption is hyponatremia, a decrease in the blood's sodium level. If more water enters the body than the kidneys can process, the mineral content of the blood decreases and the blood's overall sodium levels drop. When sodium and electrolyte levels drop in the blood, water can escape the blood and enter the cells as the blood and the cells struggle for electrolyte equilibrium. While the swelling of cells because of water is never good, it's particularly dangerous when it occurs in the brain (known as cerebral edema). Since the brain is housed within the skull, with little room to grow, brain cell swelling will lead to brain damage if severe enough. If a person continues to add water to his body, the swelling process will continue and the damage may be irreversible.
In addition, a massive increase in water will add to the body's overall blood volume and put tremendous strain on the heart and circulatory system.
Symptoms of Water Intoxication
The most severe symptoms of water intoxication occur when hyponatremia leads to cerebral edema. Symptoms of cerebral edema mirror other brain conditions such as tumors and concussions. Common symptoms of cerebral edema start with a headache that increases in intensity followed by mental confusion and seizures. Vomiting and exhaustion are also possible. As the brain cells continue to swell, the risk of death from water intoxication increases.
Tips for Preventing Water Intoxication
The easiest way to avoid water intoxication is not to make a conscious attempt to drink as much water as possible. Water drinking contests, whereby contestants try to drink gallons of water in short periods of time, are especially dangerous. Marathon runners and others who may lose large amounts of water are at risk if they try to rehydrate too quickly. For people who require above average amounts of water, it is best to ration that water and sip it rather gulp it. If you begin to suffer any of the symptoms of cerebral edema, immediately stop drinking water and seek professional assistance.