How drinking too much water can be dangerous, even deadly

Staying hydrated when participating in warm weather activities or simply spending time outdoors in the summer is essential.

Drinking water can keep your body temperature around normal, which can help mitigate the risk of dehydration as well as suffering from heat illness.

However, there are occasions when people can actually consume too much water, causing them to overhydrate and become ill.

Dr. Matthew McElroy, a sports medicine specialist and primary care doctor with Geisinger Health Systems in Pennsylvania, said overhydration is something that first started coming onto the radar about 10-15 years ago.

The problem with drinking too much water, is that it dilutes the sodium in your blood. Sodium counts are real critical to muscle function, as well as brain function, McElroy told AccuWeather.

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Woman whit dog cool themselves in water curtains during the heat wave in Warsaw. 02 August, 2018, Warsaw, Poland (Photo by Krystian Dobuszynski/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Residents at the Ter Biest house for elderly persons refresh their feet in a pool on a hot summer day, in Grimbergen, Belgium, August 3, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Tourists use fans as they queue to get on Santa Justa lift in downtown Lisbon on August 3, 2018. - Two men died from heatstroke in Spain as Europe sweltered in a record heatwave today, with temperatures hitting a scorching 45 degrees Celsius in some areas and meteorologists saying only scant relief is in sight in the coming days. The highest temperature ever recorded in Europe was 48 degrees in Athens in 1977, closely followed by 47.3 in Amareleja, Portugal in 2003 as well as in Montoro, Spain last year. (Photo by PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFP) (Photo credit should read PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP/Getty Images)
People sunbathe on a river beach at Ribeira das Naus in Lisbon on August 3, 2018. - Two men died from heatstroke in Spain as Europe sweltered in a record heatwave today, with temperatures hitting a scorching 45 degrees Celsius in some areas and meteorologists saying only scant relief is in sight in the coming days. The highest temperature ever recorded in Europe was 48 degrees in Athens in 1977, closely followed by 47.3 in Amareleja, Portugal in 2003 as well as in Montoro, Spain last year. (Photo by PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFP) (Photo credit should read PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman sporting a hat walks past a fountain at Rossio square in Lisbon on August 3, 2018. - Two men died from heatstroke in Spain as Europe sweltered in a record heatwave today, with temperatures hitting a scorching 45 degrees Celsius in some areas and meteorologists saying only scant relief is in sight in the coming days. The highest temperature ever recorded in Europe was 48 degrees in Athens in 1977, closely followed by 47.3 in Amareleja, Portugal in 2003 as well as in Montoro, Spain last year. (Photo by PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFP) (Photo credit should read PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP/Getty Images)
An elderly woman is seen in a retirement home in Nice as summer temperatures continue to rise and local French authorities launched a heat wave alert in France, July 31, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard
People cool off in water fountains in Nice as hot summer temperatures continue and authorities maintain a heat wave alert in France, August 1, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard
People enjoy a hot summer day on a pedalo on Lake Leman during a heat wave in Lausanne, Switzerland, July 30, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
People enjoy a hot summer day on pedalos on Lake Leman during a heat wave in Lausanne, Switzerland, July 30, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
A baby hippopotamus born less than two months ago, swims in the pond, to cool off during a heat wave, at the La Fleche zoo, northwestern France, on August 3, 2018. (Photo by JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER / AFP) (Photo credit should read JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP/Getty Images)
Men relax in the hot weather by the Marmara Sea in Istanbul, Turkey August 3, 2018. REUTERS/Murad Sezer TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
City guard give away water to citizens during the heat wave in Warsaw. 02 August, 2018, Warsaw, Poland (Photo by Krystian Dobuszynski/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
People cool themselves in water curtains during the heat wave in Warsaw. 02 August, 2018, Warsaw, Poland (Photo by Krystian Dobuszynski/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
A nun takes water from a kiosk designed in the style of the hexagonal newspaper stands in front of the Ancient Colosseum, in central Rome on August 2, 2018. - Italy is experiencing its first summer heat wave with temperatures approaching 40 degrees Celsius. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)
The digital sign of a pharmacy reads 35 degrees Celsius (97 degrees Fahrenheit) on August 2, 2018 in Marseille, southern France, as a wave of heat strikes France. (Photo by Boris HORVAT / AFP) (Photo credit should read BORIS HORVAT/AFP/Getty Images)
People cool off under water sprays in Lille, northern France, on August 2, 2018, as a wave of heat strikes France. (Photo by PHILIPPE HUGUEN / AFP) (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)
A tourist uses a fan during a hot Summer day in front of the Ancient Colosseum in central Rome on August 2, 2018, as Italy is experiencing a Summer heatwave with temperatures approaching 40 degrees Celsius. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)
People sit on the rocks beside the shore of the Bosphorus after bathing in its waters in the Uskudar district of Istanbul on August 3,2018. (Photo by OZAN KOSE / AFP) (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
A lion eats a frozen treat with syrup, chicken and fruits to cool off during a heat wave, at the La Fleche zoo, northwestern France, on August 3, 2018. (Photo by JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER / AFP) (Photo credit should read JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP/Getty Images)
A surfer rides on an artificial wave at the canal of the Eisbach river at the English Garden park in Munich, southern Germany, where temperatures were around 33 degrees Celsius on July 31, 2018. (Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP) (Photo credit should read CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty Images)
With record temperatures with 35 degrees Celsius and more in Munich and in Germany in general many people went to the Englischer Garten and the Eisbach (Isar). (Photo by Alexander Pohl/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
The Monopteros is seen in the background. In front of it there are a lot of people at the Eisbach and sun bathing. With record temperatures with 35 degrees Celsius and more in Munich and in Germany in general many people went to the Englischer Garten and the Eisbach (Isar). (Photo by Alexander Pohl/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
A woman and a child sit on a pontoon on Lac de Joux during a heat wave in Le Pont, Switzerland, July 31, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
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"The primary issue of having too much water is you drown in your own water a little bit, it dilutes your sodium in your blood and your biggest risk is that it can cause a change in the way your brain works," McElroy said.

When sodium levels in your blood are abnormally low, that can lead to a condition called hyponatremia. This occurs when the kidneys become overwhelmed and it becomes difficult for them to excrete water. Symptoms of hyponatremia can range from mild to life-threatening, according to the Mayo Clinic.

signs and symptoms of hyponatremia

Medical experts say overhydration is more common in endurance athletes, such as marathon runners, who exercise outdoors in intense heat for longer periods of time such as over two to three hours.

A 2005 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 13 percent of runners in the 2002 Boston Marathon who provided blood samples had hyponatremia.

Beth Kitchin, Ph.D, an assistant professor with the University of Alabama at BirminghamDepartment of Nutrition Sciences, said people should drink about 4 to 6 ounces of water every 20 minutes when performing an activity, whether it's gardening or running a marathon.

RELATED: Simple ways to drink more water 

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10 ways you can drink more water

1. Add flavor

Spa water, anyone? 

If you're not about that plain water life, simply cut up some fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs and add it to a jug of ice water. Some of our favorite additions include lemon, cucumber, strawberries and basil. 

2. Keep a bottle of water near you at all times

Sometimes, you just forget! But if you keep a glass or bottle of water in many places, it'll be a constant reminder to hydrate. We like to keep one in the car, at our desks, on our nightstands and so on. 

3. Try SodaStream

According to a recent survey, SodaStream drinkers drink 43% more water than consumers who don't own a machine. Forget store-bought bottles and opt for this convenient, eco-friendly and affordable magical machine. We're a big fan. 

SodaStream Power Metal Sparkling Water Maker Starter Kit, White, $133.99

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4. Opt for the one-to-one rule.

Drinking? No problem. We're big enthusiasts of this rule. For every drink you have, supplement it with one glass of water. Shots included!  

5. Download a water tracking app.

Track your water consumption with your phone. Apps like Hydro Coach and Water Time Pro can offer in-depth statistics on your water drinking habits. Whether you're drinking teas or eating a lot of healthy fruits, these apps take your diet and exercise into account. 

6. And with that said, eat your water! 

Fruits and vegetables are not only packed with great nutrients, but more water than you probably realize. Here's a breakdown of some of our favorites. 

  • Watermelon: 92% water
  • Tomatoes: 94% water
  • Peppers: 94% water
  • Celery: 96% water
  • Cucumber: 96% water

7. Invest in a water filter

You might be more inclined to drink water if it's from a crisp, cold pitcher. Especially if you're not a fan of tap water, the Brita helps clean out murky different tastes coming from the faucet! 

Brita 10 Cup Everyday Water Pitcher with 1 Filter, BPA Free, White, $36.30

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8. Drink a glass before every meal

Get yourself into a routine to drink a glass of water before every meal. And then continue drinking! It'll also fill you up. 

9. Invest in a nice water bottle

If you spend a little cash on it, hopefully you're more inclined to use it, right? And you'll want to show it off! We're loving these adorable bottles from Swell, like this one that's also insulated.

It's worth every penny.  

S'well Vacuum Insulated Stainless Steel Water Bottle, Double Wall, 17 oz, Turquoise Blue, $35.00

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10. Set goals for yourself

Now, with that snazzy new water bottle, grab a role of tape and measure out how much water you'll want to have had before a set time! And stick to it. 

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"You don't need gallons of water during activity, which is where some people have gotten into trouble with overhydration," she said.

The Centers for Disease Control states that the average adult should consume about 3 to 4 liters of water daily from drinking fluids and eating food.

Elena McCown is an ACE certified health coach and fitness instructor based in Franklin, Tennessee, who often coaches marathon runners. She frequently tells clients that while water is important and vital to life, more is not always better in certain circumstances.

"Hyponatremia occurs more frequently in females, the elderly, and those who are hospitalized or have specific risk factors," McCown said. "I tend to see it more often in people who are running marathons, are a little slower, and tend to over compensate by drinking too much water and not taking in enough electrolytes."

To find the proper balance between hydrating and overhydrating, it's best to drink to your thirst level, while also consuming sports drinks that contain electrolytes.

The body loses sodium when people sweat during exercise. Both McCown and McElroy said adding additional levels of sodium to your diet right before an endurance event is another way to help counterbalance the risk of suffering hyponatremia.

Consuming foods like soup or adding about a teaspoon of salt to some of the foods that you eat can provide a boost to sodium levels.

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Knee injuries are so common among beginner runners, therefore, help prevent or treat them with these compression socks from ACE. They’re designed to provide a comfortable, even compression and have dual-stretch power knit material for extra comfort. 

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Let’s face it, your feet get sweaty when you run. But that’s probably because you’re not wearing the right socks. Invest in a few good pair of wicking socks like these from Thirty 48. They’re affordable, have extra padding, and are designed to keep moisture away.

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Getting a FlipBelt changed my running game entirely to the point where I can’t believe I carried my phone in my hand for so long. It comfortably sits on my hips, holds my keys, phone, chapstick, some tissues for cold-weather running, AND their ergonomic water bottle. It’s a runner’s storage magic.
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Recovery is key after every run. I get shin splints pretty easily and using a muscle roller before and after every run on my legs helps prevent any muscle injury.
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"If you plan to work out several days on end, in really hot weather you're probably not gonna get enough salt into your body to match the salt you're sweating out, so you should think about adding a little salt to the things you eat," McElroy said.

"A normal blood sodium level is between 135 and 145 milliequivalents per liter (mEq/L). Hyponatremia occurs when the sodium in your blood falls below 135 mEq/L," the Mayo Clinic states.

Experts recommend weighing yourself before and after exercise. Kitchin suggested drinking 16 ounces of water for every pound lost.

McCown said if you weigh about 1 pound more after exercise, you should cut back on water a little bit, whereas if you weigh about 5 pounds less, you should consider drinking a little more.

While rare, cases of hyponatremia have been blamed for the deaths of athletes in the past.

In 2002, a 28-year-old woman running in the Boston Marathon collapsed during the race and died two days afterward.

In 2014, two high school football players in the southern United States reportedly died due to overhydration.

"Athletes are usually pushed to drink as much water as possible to avoid dehydration instead of listening to their thirst. This can lead to overhydration if not careful. Education and prevention are key with this problem," McCown said.

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