In a case report of a 59-year old patient published in BMJ Case Reports on Nov. 1, doctors reported that the woman started drinking more than half a pint of water every 30 minutes after she developed symptoms of urinary tract infection. The patient did this in the hopes that increasing her water intake would "flush out her system."
The woman, however, quickly fell seriously ill and was hospitalized at King's College hospital with dangerously low levels of salt in her blood.
Water Intoxication Kills
She suffered from water intoxication, also known as hyponatremia, a condition that can be potentially fatal if left untreated. Its symptoms include vomiting, nausea, headaches and in serious cases, confusion, brain swelling, seizures, coma.
Water intoxication tend to occur in individuals involved in some endurance sports and those who use certain drugs such as MDMA (commonly known as ecstasy). Patients who suffered from abnormally low salt levels because of hyponatremia have mortality rate of nearly 30 percent.
The patient's condition continued to worsen even after she was admitted to the hospital. During the patient's visit to the emergency department, she became progressively shaky and muddled. She also vomited several times as well as exhibited significant speech difficulties. She was given analgesic and antibiotics.
Tests showed the amount of water she consumed resulted in dangerous low levels of sodium that can be classified as a medical emergency. About 30 percent of patients with sodium levels of less than 125 mmol/L die. The patient's level was at 123 mmol/L.
What the doctors did was reduce the patient's fluid intake to just 1 liter over the next 24 hours. Blood tests the following day were back to normal and the woman was allowed to go home that day.
Safe Amount Of Water To Drink
The case has prompted doctors to question the safe amount of water to drink. They also called for more evidence to know how much water can be considered as too much.
Maryann Noronha, from King's College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust said that doctors need to be more specific when they give advice.
"I say to people, while they are ill they should at least consume their normal fluid intake and up to half again [ie, up to 150%]. If you drink three litres, you shouldn't drink six litres when you are ill."