What is Overhydration?
Overhydration is the condition of having excessive volumes of water in the body’s system, and is otherwise known as water intoxication. This, at first, may sound ridiculous as all humans require water to live and perform all the most basic functions, but too much water can actually cause imbalances in the body that prevent normal functioning. The disorder can occur if a person takes in excessive amounts of water or if he or she has an abnormal disability to excrete water adequately in order to maintain normal fluid balance in the body – any circumstances that bring about a disproportion between the intake and the loss of water can result in overhydration.
Overhydration may start out without the manifestation of any symptoms, but if the intoxication aggressively accumulates and begins to affect normal brain operations, patients may show signs of confusion or disorientation and may even have seizures. The condition can be resolved through a strict therapeutic regimen that consists of the restriction of fluid intake as well as the administration of diuretics that facilitate the excretion of excess fluids in the body. Prognosis for patients with water intoxication is usually good, if the condition is caught early enough. Symptoms should be carefully watched out for to allow immediate detection and treatment.
Simple cases of overhydration are often asymptomatic, showing no signs of severe disorder within the body as the water intoxication may have been slow and allowed the body some time to adequately adapt to the new environment. However, some cases are exceptions and manifest symptoms that may even be incapacitating to the patient. The symptoms associated with overhydration are those that result from the reduced concentration of sodium in the body – otherwise known as hyponatremia. The condition results in the obstruction of bodily processes that require a certain amount of sodium, the following symptoms are the most common examples of the effects of hyponatremia:
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Irritability and restlessness
- Muscular weakness
- Muscle cramps or spasms
- Altered level of consciousness
Symptoms range from mild to severe, and will depend on the extent of the dilution of sodium concentrations occurring in the body. Mild cases will yield symptoms that involve minor disturbances such the loss of appetite and headaches, while more serious cases of low sodium levels can lead to neurological dysfunctions if not given prompt treatment.
Treatment for overhydration will involve the limitation of water intake as well as the induction of water excretion through the use of diuretic medications. Diuretics work by stimulating the increased production and excretion of urine to facilitate faster clearing of fluid from the body. This will help bring down the water levels and normalize sodium concentrations in the blood. Diuretics include drugs like furosemide, amiloride, or mannitol. Mannitol, specifically, is used for cases wherein the brain has already become involved since it is a type of diuretic that is capable of promoting the reduction of fluid in the brain cavity rather than in the other lower regions of the body alone. Other medications also used for overhydration includes vasopressin receptor antagonists, which are drugs that inhibit the effects of vasopressin, the antidiuretic hormone of the body that is in charge of fluid retention. In effect, the medications improve the rate of fluid loss to restore normal levels of water in the body.
To resolve hyponatremia without the use of medications, patients who are overhydrated will have to drink sodium-containing beverages or consume foods rich in salt to provide supplementary amounts of sodium into the body. These sources of sodium should be usually kept handy especially for athletes who are increasingly prone to overhydration and hyponatremia.
Effects of Overhydration
Overhydration can result in series of effects in the body that begin as minor disruptions in normal bodily processes but may eventually progress to severe disturbances if the imbalance is not corrected in time. Overhydration works over the principle that water is capable of diluting the body, both intracellularly and extracellularly, drowning out the normal concentrations of certain compounds in the blood and in the body’s tissues. Sodium in particular is the element most affected by the rapid increase in water levels as its capabilities in performing its functions will depend on the proportions between the water content and sodium content.
The dilution of sodium concentrations is known as hyponatremia and is diagnosed if the patient is found to have sodium levels that are lower than 135 mEq/L. Low sodium levels allow the entry of water into the cells and cause cellular swelling in various regions of the body, including the brain – resulting in neurological symptoms that may eventually lead to permanent brain damage or even death if water levels continually rise and produce constant swelling and asphyxiation in the brain.