Woman Dies From ‘Water Intoxication’ After Drinking Too Much Water

Angel Yuan
By Angel Yuan
August 4, 2023USshare
Woman Dies From ‘Water Intoxication’ After Drinking Too Much Water
A woman drinks water from a plastic bottle in a file photo. (Fred Tanneau/AFP/Getty Images)

A 35-year-old mother of two died from “water intoxication” on Independence Day weekend in Indiana after trying to quench her thirst too quickly, her family have said.

Also known as water toxicity or water poisoning, water intoxication, though rare, can occur if an individual rapidly drinks too much water.

After Ashley Summers spent a leisurely day with her family on Lake Freeman near Monticello, Indiana, she began to feel severely dehydrated. Ms. Summers told her family that she could not drink enough water to satisfy her thirst.

On the morning of July 4th, she reportedly felt lightheaded and had a persistent headache.

She then drank four bottles of water in around 20 minutes, her brother, Devon Miller, told WRTV. “I mean, an average water bottle … is 16 ounces, so that was 64 ounces that she drank in a span of 20 minutes. That’s half a gallon. That’s what you’re supposed to drink in a whole day,” he said.

After returning home, Ms. Summers fainted in her garage, and was sent to IU Health Arnett Hospital in Lafayette. She suffered severe brain swelling, and never regained consciousness.

“My sister, Holly, called me, and she was just an absolute wreck,” Mr. Miller said. “She was like: ‘Ashley is in the hospital. She has brain swelling, they don’t know what’s causing it, they don’t know what they can do to get it to go down, and it’s not looking good.’”

Doctors diagnosed Ms. Summers with water intoxication, or hyponatraemia, which develops from decreased sodium concentration in the body. Sodium is essential for regulating the balance of fluids as well as maintaining nerve and muscle function. An optimal body system maintains an equilibrium between water and electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, and chloride, to ensure optimal cell activity.

The symptoms of water intoxication include muscle cramps, confusion, disorientation, nausea, and vomiting, and may even result in changes to the patient’s mental state.

“It was a shock to all of us. When they first started talking about water toxicity, it was like: This is a thing?” Mr. Miller added.

According to Dr. Blake Froberg, a toxicologist at Indiana University School of Medicine, cases of the condition are rare. He stressed the importance of staying hydrated during the summertime, especially for those frequently exercising or working outside.

“Making sure that you’re drinking things that have electrolytes and sodium and some potassium” is important, said Dr. Froberg.

“What we are concerned about is just drinking too much water in a short period of time. Your kidneys can really only clear about a liter of water per hour,” said Dr. Alok Harwani, an emergency physician at IU Health Arnett Hospital, to WLFI.

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