Can Drinking Too Much Water Really Kill You?

Water is, suffice to say, the essence of life. To say that it's important to our environment and our health would certainly be an understatement. Drinking water each day can help cool the body down, help remove waste products from the body, and keep you refreshed and energized (via CDC). But for all of the benefits water gives us, is there really such a thing as drinking too much water? In one startling case, it seems that excessive amounts of a normally healthy and vital part of life could lead to fatal consequences.

This particular case involves California-based radio station KDND's contest for the then-newly released Nintendo Wii game console in 2007. According to SF Gate, the contest, known as "Hold Your Wee for a Wii" had a simple set of rules: contestants must drink a large amount of water after every few minutes or so and then try to see how long they could go without going to the bathroom to relieve themselves. An odd (and some say immature) contest, but one woman by the name of Jennifer Strange decided to take on the challenge to win the Nintendo Wii for her three children. According to Insider Exclusive, Mrs. Strange managed to last three hours in the contest, drinking increasingly large amounts of water before leaving the station complaining of headaches and severe pain.

Later that evening, Mrs. Strange would be found dead in her home. How did drinking so much water end up causing her death?

The strange affliction of water intoxication

When you think of intoxication, your first thought may understandably be the kind of intoxication that follows heavy drinking. While drinking water doesn't cause the same effects as having a few beers, excessive amounts of water consumed in a short span of time can lead to an effect known as "water intoxication."

As Scientific American explains, water intoxication is when the body becomes oversaturated with water. The kidneys, which act as the body's filter, usually use the water you drink to help flush out waste and toxins from the body. When you drink extreme amounts of water, however, the kidneys become unable to drain the water out fast enough. Think of it like filling a draining bathtub with buckets of water, with the drain being unable to remove such a large amount of water. As excess water floods the body, it begins to seep into your bloodstream and your cells, which absorb the water like a sponge. As your cells expand to hold all of this water, the cells in your brain begin to become tightly packed together and start to swell up. The brain then begins to swell to full capacity against your skull.

Symptoms of water intoxication, according to Healthline, include head pains such as migraines, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and in worst scenarios, seizures or loss of consciousness. If you or someone you know shows signs of these symptoms, it's recommended to get medical attention immediately.