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Diet Diva
Diet Diva

Get advice on healthy eating, nutrition, and weight loss from expert dietitian Tara Gidus. 

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Water Intoxication Death


I heard a story this week on the news that always upsets me. A 17 year old football player in California died earlier this month and the coroner's report stated that he died of electrolyte imbalance from drinking too much water during practice.

What is hyponatremia?
Hypo means low and natremia means blood sodium. Hyponatremia happens when someone drinks too much water and their brain swells. It happens very infrequently, but at the same time is very serious when it does happen. It happens to athletes who sweat a lot, exercise for a long period of time, and drink water with no sodium. A rare case happened a few years ago when a woman drank a huge amount of water while at a radio water drinking contest. Certain medical conditions can cause hyponatremia, but in healthy people it is rare.

Symptoms of hyponatremia:
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headache
  • Confusion, hallucinations
  • Lethargy
  • Fatigue
  • Bloating
  • Muscle weakness, spasms or cramps
  • Seizures
  • Decreased consciousness or coma
Hyponatremia prevention:
  1. Be aware of the symptoms, especially if you are a heavy sweater while exercising
  2. Drink beverages that contain sodium while exercising (sports beverages like Gatorade, Powerade, etc). Do not dilute sports beverages because that will also dilute the sodium.
  3. If you are a really heavy sweater or are going to be doing more than 2 hours of endurance exercise, you may want to consider using a higher sodium formula of sports beverage like Gatorade Endurance.
  4. Eat food that contains sodium before or during exercise, especially if you are a heavy sweater.

Salt tablets are not necessary. Our food supply is so rich in sodium that you can get plenty from sports beverage or foods containing sodium while you are exercising.

Photo courtesy of www.rps.psu.edu
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About the Author


MS, RD, CSSD, LD/N

Tara Gidus is a nationally recognized expert and spokesperson on nutrition and fitness.

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