Drinking too much water when ill can be harmful

By Drum Digital
05 December 2016

Advising people to "drink plenty of fluids" when unwell could be dangerous, doctors warn.

Experts at King's College Hospital in London have questioned the recommendation after treating a 59-year-old woman who drank so much water that she became gravely ill.

The woman, who is not named, "overdosed" on water after developing symptoms of a urinary tract infection. She recalled being told by a doctor previously to drink lots of water - half a pint every 30 minutes - though she said she thought in this case, she had consumed more to "flush out her system".

The woman was admitted to A&E, where doctors found she was suffering from hyponatraemia - a condition that occurs when the level of sodium is abnormally low, causing her to vomit and become "progressively shaky".

Doctors restricted her fluid intake to 1 litre over the next 24 hours.

"By the following morning her blood tests were normal and she was discharged later that day," they said in a report.

Other symptoms of hyponatraemia include nausea, vomiting and headaches. In serious cases, it can lead to heart, liver, or kidney failure.

A death rate of almost 30 per cent has been reported in patients with abnormally low salt levels.

This incident mirrors a previous case report, in which a woman developed hyponatraemia, and later died from drinking excessive amounts of water during an episode of gastroenteritis.

The doctors say it's very rare to develop water intoxication with normal renal function.

They conclude: "There is a paucity of evidence behind the advice to 'drink plenty of fluids' in the management of mild infective illness. This needs to be addressed, especially considering the significant morbidity and mortality of acute hyponatraemia."

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