Overhydration / Hyponatremia

Overhydration is the term used for the excessive intake of water. It is also often referred to as water intoxication. Water is a vital component for the proper functioning of the body. It helps in a plethora of biological processes including digestion, absorption, and distribution of food and nutrients.

Water helps maintain normal body temperature, protect the spinal cord, protect sensitive tissues, lubricate and cushion the joints, and excrete waste products through urination, bowel movements, and perspiration.

It is also considered a natural detoxifier and is recommended for improvement of dermal conditions. Physicians and nutritionists always advise drinking sufficient quantity of water.

Optimal Intake

An optimal quantity of water intake recommended for a healthy individual is approximately eight glasses per day, albeit it varies depending on the factors such as age, occupation, and medical conditions, among others.

For instance, people doing strenuous physical activities such as athletes and trekkers drink almost double the amount of water than a normal individual. On the other hand, those with sedentary lifestyles drink significantly less amount of water daily. In most cases, the body cells manage to adjust with a high or low intake of water to a certain extent, after which the implications start to appear.

Fluid Imbalance

While inadequate water intake can cause dehydration, which in severe cases, may turn out to be fatal, an excessive amount of water can also do more harm than good to the body.

There are two physical phenomena which can cause overhydration: excessive water intake and fluid retention.

Fluid Retention

A healthy body can remove a significant amount of overage of water in urine without much trouble. The problem begins when the kidneys are overworked or fatigued. Also, various conditions such as diabetes mellitus, liver and kidney disorders, and medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can hamper the excretion of water, resulting in fluid retention in the body.

Excessive Water Intake

This excessive amount of water, when internalized, causes dilution of body fluids. Cells may swell in this condition. While the cells in other organs can cope up with a bit of swelling, the cells in the brain can’t. This causes serious implications, especially in the central nervous system.

Symptoms and Consequences

The major implication of fluid imbalance is on the sodium content of the body. The balance of water and sodium content is critical in the functioning of cells. When this ratio is disturbed, the patient suffers from hyponatremia.

As the sodium content of body gets diluted, cells draw in more amount of water, which results in swollen cells, and bursting of cells in extreme cases. Serious medical conditions such as heart failure and stroke can also occur if the initial alarms are ignored.

Athletes such as those running marathons are at even higher risk of hyponatremia, as they drink a large quantity of water over a period of several hours, which gets retained, while they lose a high amount of sodium in perspiration.

Patients with water intoxication suffer from loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and fatigue. Other symptoms include neurological manifestations such as a headache, confusion, dizziness, and loss of consciousness or coma in severe cases.

Restlessness, difficulty in breathing, and muscle cramps are also commonly seen in such patients. Mood alteration, digestion problems, and acid imbalance are also observed in patients with persistent overhydration.

Hyponatremia or low sodium blood levels may lead to muscle cramps, vomiting, seizures, unconsciousness, and in rare cases, death. Athletes are at a higher risk of developing hyponatremia. They are advised to drink only when they’re thirsty.

Management

Unlike the implications of overhydration, the management strategies are relatively simpler. Awareness of one’s fluid intake habits can solve the majority of the issues at the root.

People migrating from a cold climate to a relatively hot climate should increase their fluid intake, and make changes to their habits. Patients on water-retaining medications such as anti-diuretics should try to reduce the amount of water intake at a time.

Alcohol also causes water retention. Hence patients receiving water-retaining medications should use their good judgment while drinking socially. Athletes and trekkers should include the foods rich in sodium and other minerals in their diets.

Additionally, during the marathons or long cycling races, athletes should intermittently switch between electrolyte drinks and regular water. Physicians also advise the athletes to measure their body weight before and after the sports event. Based on such observations, they can habituate themselves with optimal quantity of water intake for themselves.

Further Reading

Last Updated: Feb 27, 2019

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