Doctors Urge More Study of ‘Drink Plenty of Fluids’ Advice

sick(CN) – A woman trying to cure her recurring urinary tract infection by following the time-honored adage of drinking plenty of fluids instead landed in the emergency room with a condition that’s sometimes fatal.

The patient, a 59-year-old British woman, developed hyponatremia – a disorder that occurs when a person’s level of sodium is abnormally low – after drinking several liters of water, following medical advice from previous bouts with the infection.

Consuming that much water caused the patient to become shaky, muddled, experience speech difficulties, and vomit several times. Her symptoms progressed as her sodium level was 123 millimoles per liter, well below the normal range of 135 to 145 mmol/L.

Reports show that patients with sodium levels below 125 mmol/L have a 30 percent mortality rate.

During her stay at a London hospital, the patient drank only a liter of fluids over a 24-hour period, which reduced her symptoms. The woman’s blood tests were normal, and she was discharged that day.

The patient’s experience resembles a case in which another woman developed hyponatremia and later died after drinking too much water during a case of stomach flu.

“There is a paucity of evidence behind the advice to ‘drink plenty of fluids’ in the management of mild infective illness,” the authors of a case report on the British woman write. “This needs to be addressed, especially considering the significant morbidity and mortality of acute hyponatremia.”

Fatal water intoxication has also been reported during hazing acts at universities, after taking the drug ecstasy, and in endurance exercise and sports.

The woman’s case was reported Thursday in the journal BMJ.