After Indiana mom dies from drinking too much water, here's an explanation of water toxicity

NBC Universal, Inc.

An Indiana family's heartbreaking story made headlines in recent weeks as their loved one, a mother of two, died of water toxicity from drinking too much water during a summer vacation.

Ashley Summers went boating over the Fourth of July weekend and got dehydrated, her brother, Devon Miller, said in a Facebook post.

""On Tuesday she drank alot of water (at one point 4 bottles in less than 30 minutes)," he posted, in part, on July 7. "All this caused her brain tissue to start swelling. By Tuesday evening she was unconscious in the hospital and never woke up again."

Miller later issued a warning to others in hope that something similar doesn't happen to anyone else.

"With the extreme heat this week, please monitor the amount of water you drink," he said. "And if you feel like you can't get enough, try to have a Gatorade or other drink that replenishes your electrolytes."

Summer's death has led to questions about water toxicity, including what you can do to prevent it, how much water is too much and what to do if you do suspect severe dehydration.

Dr. Steven Aks, an emergency room physician and the chief of toxicology at Cook County Health, said while uncommon, water toxicity does occur. He explained that cases have been reported in those with psychiatric illnesses and people who've attended electronic dance music festivals and taken stimulants, which can lower one's sodium level.

When a person drinks a large amount of water in a short timespan, it can dilute the sodium in their body, causing hyponatremia, a lower sodium level than normal, the doctor explained.

"It's a very dangerous state to be in for your body, like a lot of basic functions and your body cannot go forward if your sodium gets driven down that low," he said.

The Cleveland Clinic notes that "hyponatremia causes neurologic symptoms ranging from confusion to seizures to coma." But there are other signs and symptoms to also watch for. Those include:

  • Muscle cramps or weakness.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Lethargy, or low energy.
  • Headache.
  • Mental status changes.

The key to preventing water toxicity, as well as severe dehydration, is ensuring you take frequent water breaks. Drinking electrolyte solutions, such as Gatorade, and eating foods that are rich in electrolytes and minerals can be helpful as well, according to doctors.

"If you're drinking throughout your activity, or you know, your activities when you're out in the sun, you really can stay in front of this and not get into that situation," Aks said.

When it comes to how much water someone should drink, there is not a one-size-fits-all recommendation.

"I think you have to pay attention to your body," Aks said. "If you're gonna be working in a high risk condition, you got to drink more water... Six to eight glasses of water a day is a reasonable middle ground for for adults, but again, it's different based on your size and your weight, and your medical conditions."

You'll also want to keep in mind that some people, including women and children are also more susceptible to hyponatremia because of their smaller body size, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

If you start feeling dizzy, experiencing a dry mouth or begin losing energy while taking in part in a physical activity, drinking more water might be a good idea. But if you suspect someone may be experiencing severe dehydration or water toxicity -- and they start appearing confused -- it's important that they seek medical help.

"If you get to the point though, where you you know, you've been out and you're like, really dehydrated and like you have symptoms where you're exhausted where you're lightheaded, you feel like you're gonna pass out.. Well, you know, that's a that's a good time maybe to get medical attention," Aks said.

Especially since the summer isn't over yet, the doctor said it's important to look out for one another and remember the signs of dehydration.

"It's warm outside, you know, so people have to think about this is you know, this is a real thing and just and just stay on top of it," he said.

Contact Us