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Drinking Too Much Water Can Lead To Brain Swelling, Says Study

By Neha Ghosh

The rise of the scorching heat will make you drink more water. And doctors advise staying hydrated is the key to prevent dehydration, but drinking too much water or overhydration can be bad for you.

Recent research has indicated that drinking too much of water can lead to excess fluid accumulation and can cause dangerous low sodium levels in the blood or even brain swelling. In this article, you will learn about water intoxication.

What Is Water Intoxication?

Water intoxication is defined as a low blood concentration of sodium (hyponatremia) that happens when you drink excess water without adequate replacement of sodium.

Drinking adequate amounts of water may help regulate body temperature, prevent constipation, flush out toxins and perform all major body functions. Overhydration can also be referred to as hyponatremia, hyperhydration, and water poisoning. All these are the same health conditions caused by an electrolyte imbalance.

Doctors say the normal intake of water should be 8 to 10 glasses a day.

What Are The Causes Of Water Intoxication

The causes of hyponatremia can occur due to many reasons.

  • Compulsive water drinking is known as psychogenic polydipsia and it's associated with mental illness.
  • Water intoxication is linked with a combination of drinking lots of fluids and also an increased secretion of an anti-diuretic hormone, which causes the kidneys to hold on to the water.
  • Athletes might develop hyponatremia following heat-related injuries.
  • Accidental hyponatremia can also occur due to abnormal kidney dysfunction and gastroenteritis.
  • Water intoxication is also caused by illnesses treated by medical intervention such as the use of electrolytes, nasogastric tube feeding, neurological/psychiatric medications.

Water Intoxication Symptoms

The common hyponatremia symptoms are:

1. Nausea and vomiting

2. Headaches, confusion and disorientation

3. Psychotic symptoms like inappropriate behaviour, delusions, psychosis and hallucinations

4. Difficulty in breathing

5. Muscle weakness, aches, cramping and fatigue

6. Frequent urination

7. Changes in irregular heartbeat and blood pressure

8. Seizures, brain stem herniation, coma, severe drowsiness and respiratory arrest

Water intoxication can also affect babies, especially those under 9 months old and in children as well. The symptoms in babies include crying, irregular breathing, changes in behaviour, brain damage, vomiting and shaking.

Why Drinking Too Much Water Is Bad?

1. Causes Hyponatremia

Hyponatremia occurs when there is a decrease in sodium levels that happens due to quick overhydration. Sodium is essential for the body, as it helps in cell signalling and performs other functions in the body. So, when your sodium levels drop, you may experience nauseousness, fatigue or might even get a headache.

2. Causes Hypokalaemia

Water intoxication can cause hypokalaemia or a decrease in potassium ions. When you drink excess water, the balance between intracellular and extracellular potassium ions gets hampered. This can lead to severe diarrhoea and prolonged sweating.

3. Causes Brain Swelling

When there is a reduction of sodium in the body, water enters the cells through the semipermeable cell membrane. This results in swelling of the brain cells and can cause serious damage to the brain, muscle tissues and organs.

4. Overburdens The Kidneys

Consumption of excess water can put pressure on your kidneys to function constantly. The kidneys have the ability to filter a litre of fluid per hour from the body and beyond that, the kidneys have to work extra hard to maintain homoeostasis.

5. Overburdens The Heart

The heart performs many vital functions from pumping the blood to supplying oxygen and nutrients to the tissues. When you drink too much of water, it increases the blood volume in the body. This increased blood volume can put unnecessary pressure on the blood vessels and the heart.

What Is The Maximum Amount Of Water To Drink In A Day?

The daily fluid intake varies and depends on the person's sex, age, medical conditions, and daily activity as stated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The National Academics of Sciences Engineering Medicine recommends women to drink 2.7 litres of water and men to drink a total of 3.7 litres of water.

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