Water Intoxication: Symptoms And Treatment

Water Intoxication: Symptoms And Treatment

Water poisoning, at first sight, seems to be a very mild disease, but without some knowing it, water intoxication or dilution hyponatremia, if left untreated, can lead to coma, even death. Fatal cases of water poisoning can be rare, but ensuring that symptoms are addressed is vital for survival, especially during this time of climate change.

Dilutional hyponatremia is a physiological alteration caused by an excess of hydration or by drinking too much liquid in a short period of time, which results in an imbalance of electrolytes and sodium in the blood in our bodies. Doctors recommend drinking several glasses of water per day to help maintain good health and prevent the disease from taking control, but as the saying goes, too good can be dangerous.

What causes this condition?

The fluids in our body are controlled through urine and thirst; We feel this last if our body detects that we do not have enough fluids that run through our body and uses the latter to discharge any waste processed by our kidneys. The levels of sodium in our bloodstream are most affected by these two forms of fluid excretion, since sodium helps balance the liquids around our cellular composition. Without the perceived barrier caused by sodium, the liquids that move around our cells are absorbed, causing the cells to swell.

Water Intoxication: Symptoms And Treatment

Essentially, water intoxication can be due to two types of excessive hydration: the first is the result of an increase in fluid intake and the second is when our body retains excess water, which often indicates a medical condition more serious.

The total amount or volume of water present in the body during the time of intoxication can also serve as a basis to identify what type of water poisoning has affected the patient.

Risk factor’s

Like many medical conditions, dilutional hyponatremia can be the result of one or more factors.

Excessive effort

  • As a result, endurance athletes and athletes who practice outdoor activities are also prone to water intoxication, especially after going through strenuous exercise or in extreme outdoor conditions, which makes them feel thirstier and more more likely to drink too much. New athletes are also at risk as they tend to consume more fluids than other more experienced members of their community.
  • Participation in any other non-sporting but physical activity also increases the chances of water intoxication, since the more we sweat, the thirstier we get and the thirstier we get, the more we feel the need to drink water. People who work in extreme conditions are susceptible to this.

Psychological conditions

  • Some psychiatric conditions, such as schizophrenia, often force the patient to drink more fluids than they normally would.
  • Psychological stress caused by serious emotional problems can also cause compulsive water intake, which increases the risk of water intoxication among people with high levels of stress.


Some medications used to treat anxiety and depression, diarrhea, colds and asthma have a persistent side effect called “dry mouth.” This condition prevents the saliva from flowing freely and finally dries the mouth, making the patient feel uncomfortable and always thirsty.

Physiological conditions

  • Low body mass also counts as a risk factor, especially for babies, since their small bodies could not handle too much water and still conserve sodium levels in abundance.
  • Patients who receive food through a nasogastric tube or intravenously are also susceptible to electrolytes, since in these cases they are not monitored, since it is assumed that the fluids are hypertonic or are concentrated in simple terms.

Medical conditions

Some medical conditions can cause excessive fluid retention.

Water Intoxication: Symptoms And Treatment

These conditions include the following:


Short for the “Syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone”, this condition is often characterized as the abnormal secretion of the posterior pituitary gland of the antidiuretic hormone whose main function in the human body is to regulate water retention by increasing the resorption of water In collecting ducts inside the kidney.

Liver disease

Cirrhosis of the liver is often diagnosed with increased fluid retention or edema. Edema is inflammation of any part of the body as a result of injury or inflammation and, with this condition, small blood vessels leak fluid into nearby tissue and this causes the tissue to swell as the fluids can not be reabsorbed directly.

Kidney problems

The kidney, which is the body’s waste disposal department, is often at risk of infection and disease, especially if the condition causes the kidney to absorb more fluids than necessary.

Hormone imbalance

Some hormonal diseases like Addison’s and hypothyroidism have been linked to the low levels of sodium that result.

Recreational substances

  • The drugs. The ecstasy of the party drug, or MDMA, can cause users to overdo it and sweat excessively. This would force them to drink water continuously until they feel relieved. This is compounded by the fact that MDMA can also agitate the levels of antidiuretic hormones in our body, thus preventing excess water from being released through urine.
  • Beer. Alcoholics who consume bottle after bottle of beer are also prone to water intoxication. Beer contains a very small amount of sodium and, if combined with an unhealthy diet, can cause a rapid loss of sodium that causes hyponatremia.

Look at the signs

There are several tell-tale signs to be taken into account to detect water intoxication.

Water Intoxication: Symptoms And Treatment

These signs would lead to symptoms that help assess the situation.

  1. Swelling – A person suffering from water poisoning sometimes has swollen fingers and fingers. The digits will be sticky to the touch and will have a consistency similar to a water balloon.
  2. Clear urine – The color of a person will be normal. The liquid levels will vary from light yellow to light orange. Clear urine is a sign that you have already consumed too much water and will need to reduce it.
  3. Significant change in body weight. – changes in a person’s body weight would often mean improving a person’s health, but sometimes it can also mean that the body has gained weight due to the volume of fluid running through the veins, depositing drops on the tissues all over.
  4. Dry or sweaty skin – A person suffering from water poisoning sometimes has dry or sweaty skin, this in combination with other symptoms can lead to a diagnosis of water intoxication.

Symptoms of water poisoning.

Drinking too many liquids in a short period of time can cause the sodium in our blood to drop and the resulting imbalance to manifest itself through the symptoms listed below.

Water Intoxication: Symptoms And Treatment

Early stage – Water intoxication at this stage can not be easily detected, but early symptoms include:

  • Nausea and vomiting – This is usually accompanied by dizziness and varying degrees of discomfort around the upper part of the stomach. Mild cases often do not lead to vomiting.
  • Disorientation and confusion. – Low levels of sodium in the blood will result in a low volume of blood that directly affects our brain functions.
  • Headache – Increased fluid in the blood cells dilutes the plasma and once the diluted blood reaches the brain it can cause mild to severe headaches.
  • Restlessness Patients suffering from water intoxication will have discomfort, especially when they sit down, as the liquids around the cells accumulate and give the sensation of swelling.
  • Fatigue A reaction opposite to that previously discussed, patients with water intoxication would feel a general sense of weakness, sometimes along with restlessness.

Advanced stage – If left untreated, water poisoning will further affect the levels of sodium in our blood and will manifest itself through:

  • Muscle spasms, weakness and cramps – as the electrolyte levels in our body descend, so does the normal flow of blood that passes through our muscles and this could cause mild to acute spasms; a feeling of weakness when trying to use the muscle; and jerking cramps that can lead to temporary paralysis.
  • Confused speech – Another effect of blood that does not flow normally, the suspension may also manifest itself during the advanced stages of water intoxication.
  • Diarrhea – this symptom further pushes the electrolyte imbalance as essential fluids are unnecessarily excreted
  • Unconsciouss: Advanced depletion of sodium in the blood will lead to loss of consciousness as a result of the body closing secondary processes.
  • Seizures – The decrease in the quality of blood circulating around the body can cause seizures that can become permanent if not treated immediately.


Water intoxication should always be attended within a period of hours, without being attended to for more than 1 or 2 days may result in the following complications:

Comatose Patients who are already unconscious may succumb to coma immediately if the main cause is not identified and the necessary treatment is not administered. Some cases often increase to get comatose in a short period of time.

Organic damage Once the blood flow is affected, several organs are affected. Some of these will be repaired immediately after or during treatment, while others will suffer permanent damage.

Water Intoxication: Symptoms And Treatment

Diabetes – The loss of sodium is also equal to the depletion of the body’s sugar level and, if not resolved, water intoxication can cause diabetes.

Paralysis – As with organ damage, neurological function will also be severely affected by poor blood quality and untreated symptoms.

Delay A very rare complication, mental retardation can also result from water intoxication if the condition is severe.

Death – The final complication of all evil. Several cases have already been documented for water intoxication that results in immediate death. These are mostly caused by torture or hazing.

Similarities with heat exhaustion.

The symptoms of water intoxication mentioned above are similar to those related to heat stroke. Some experts also argue that water intoxication is, in a way, a type of heat illness. Given the fact that the symptoms of water intoxication are the same as heat exhaustion, this makes it difficult to determine what exactly has affected the patient. Water poisoning can occur when temperatures are at the high extremes as well.

Heat exhaustion, on the other hand, can also result from the depletion of sodium from the body and cause symptoms similar to water intoxication. And like water intoxication, heat exhaustion due to low sodium levels can also occur in extreme temperatures.


The similarities with their symptoms make the adequate diagnosis difficult without consulting a trained doctor. A battery of laboratory tests is needed to determine and correctly diagnose whether the patient suffers from one another, but to carry out a brief history of the events leading up to the moment can help determine if it is intoxication or exhaustion.

Water Intoxication: Symptoms And Treatment

If a patient qualifies for one or more of the risk factors established in this article, then it is very likely that they have suffered intoxication. There are still some symptoms present in heat exhaustion that does not manifest itself with water intoxication. These include fainting, pale skin, profuse sweating and rapid heartbeat.


As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Extensive preparation is needed to prevent diseases such as water intoxication from interrupting our daily activities.

Here are some tips to prevent water poisoning:

For randonneurs, tri-athletes, marathon runners and other endurance athletes, the following apply:

  • Weight in and weight out – Become a habit of weighing yourself before doing any exhaustive activity. The goal is to equalize the amount of weight loss due to sweating with an equivalent volume of fluid just after exercise. The rule of thumb for these events is to drink at least 20 ounces of fluids, preferably with electrolytes, within several hours after each training session and, most importantly, after the event.
  • Continue drinking pills – It is important that we keep a record of our fluid intake, regardless of whether it is during training or during the event. Keeping track will help us understand our drinking patterns, which, in turn, will help us determine the correct amount of fluid we should drink. An important fact to keep in mind is that sports drinks count as water and should be taken into account when tracking fluid intake.
  • Eat salt – not literally, of course, but a constant consumption of salty foods during training will keep your sodium levels controlled and avoid water retention.
  • Break – Beginners should take advantage of any rest stop available. Especially in high temperatures, endurance athletes should take a break and let their body cool down.
  • Taking a sip – Never swallow any liquid during or after an exercise, always take quick, short sips to cool the body slowly and avoid accidental poisoning by water. Swallowing too much at once will prevent the body from absorbing the liquid and will cause an excess of water in our system.

For those who do outdoor activities: they are often the most vulnerable to water intoxication due to the environment in which they dive. Add the fact that the desert climate is unpredictable.

  • Prepare for the worst – basic mountaineering dictates that mountaineers should always be prepared for anything that may happen; This includes the sudden onset of diseases and injuries.
  • Plan for the future – Consider the area in which you will trek and identify possible sources of water and rest stops. Rest stops should have a wide canopy of trees to decrease the chances of thirst and cool shade will also help regulate body temperature.
  • Road meal – prepare foods on the route that have a healthy balance of sweet and salty to avoid low sodium and low sugar levels. A good mix of trails will have nuts, some chocolate and beans that will provide small increases in energy along the way.
  • Ask the man of time – Before any outdoor excursion, it is always advisable to read about the weather conditions in the vicinity. While the weather may be unpredictable, having a general idea of ​​what to expect will help.
  • Rehydration salts – A well-prepared outdoor enthusiast will always have a first aid kit and his first aid kit should always have oral rehydration salts that can help people who are poisoned with water to recover faster.

Medically at risk

People who have existing medical conditions should always consult their doctors before performing any task that forces them to exert more effort than usual. Doctors often discourage activity, while some recommend a strategy on how to overcome the challenge.

It is recommended to those suffering from heart, kidney or liver diseases that limit any strenuous physical activity to avoid complications caused by their condition. Therapists will often provide an extensive program that will allow them to perform any physical activity in the future.

First aid and treatment

First aid

It is vital to help a person suffering from water poisoning during the first hours of its appearance, and the following steps can be taken to act as first aid and prevent the condition from running its course.

Keep them quiet As with any injury or illness, it is important to keep the patient calm. Sit them in a cool, dry place and make sure they are comfortable. Assure them that help is one of the ways and that everything will be fine. If the patient is restless, give them something to do with their hands, a simple task that will not require any effort and will keep your mind away from the situation.

  • Fluid restriction – Water intoxication means that they have had too much and we have to make sure they have limited access to water and any other type of liquid. If they have to drink, give them controlled portions to avoid recursion.
  • Salty food – If the patient feels the need to eat, give foods with a high salt content. This would significantly increase your sodium levels once the salt is absorbed by the body.
  • Medication – Providing medications to patients can sometimes be counterproductive, especially without adequate training and information. Some generic medications such as aspirin and ibuprofen often cause an adverse reaction instead of relieving symptoms. The most an expert can give them are the oral rehydration salts that will help the patient recover their electrolyte and sodium balance.
  • Call an ambulance – Immediately call an ambulance once a person who may or may not know suffers one or more symptoms of water poisoning.


The treatment for mild water poisoning is usually fluid restriction, but once professional care is introduced, the following are some of the measures taken to treat acute and severe cases:

  • Fluid restriction – Patients often can not drink water or any other liquid directly, are administered intravenously and are monitored to determine their sodium levels. Depending on the severity of the situation, the saline solution is adjusted to meet the needs of the patient.
  • Medication – Diuretics are often given to increase urination, which reduces the volume of fluids present in the body. Some medications are also given to reduce persistent symptoms and treat the underlying medical cause of water poisoning.
  • Query – You need an ongoing consultation with your doctor to make sure there is not a permanent complication as a result of water poisoning. Maintenance medications may also be provided as needed.

Water poisoning is not as simple as it seems.

Water Intoxication: Symptoms And Treatment

Adequate preparation, urgent attention and the right information are needed to prevent this disease from happening to you and those around you.


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