If you play sports, you know an athlete's mantra is hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. While dehydration is common, overhydration can cause a rare, but sometimes fatal, condition called hyponatremia. When you drink a lot of water, the ratio of sodium and fluid in your body becomes skewed. The imbalance causes cells to swell. While systemic cells can handle some degree of swelling, the cells in your brain cannot. Consequently, hyponatremia may result in serious neurological problems.
Document your hydration habits. Carry a small notebook and jot down the time and quantity of fluid as you take drinks through the day. In the evening, review your notes. If you are drinking more often than every 10 minutes, you are at risk for overhydration, according to Boston Children's Hospital.
Look for signs of overhydration. The symptoms of hyponatremia are often non-specific and can be similar to the symptoms of dehydration. You may feel nauseated, tired, irritable, restless and generally under the weather. Vomiting and altered mental state are signs that the hyponatremia is progressing, while seizures, coma and death are the final consequences of the severe electrolyte imbalance caused by overhydration.
Consider your risk factors. Hyponatremia is very rare, but serious athletes, marathon runners and children or adults who are small in stature are at risk. If you fall into a risk group, watch your fluid intake carefully.
Drink a few ounces of water every hour to an hour and a half. Don't let more than two hours pass between drinks or you'll put yourself at risk for dehydration.
Hyponatremia is a serious medical emergency. Seek medical attention immediately if you suspect you are overhydrated.
Although sports drinks contain electrolytes, they will not protect you from hyponatremia, according to Boston Children's Hospital.