Water is good for us. Doctors say so. It keeps us hydrated, prevents us from fainting during hot summer days, helps our body perform its functions, and makes us feel better by chasing away an uncomfortable dry throat or dry mouth.
But new research has revealed that athletes who drink too much water while working out are in danger of experiencing hyponatremia. Experts are convinced that out of the number of deaths recorded among marathon runners, hikers, football players and many more athletes, 14 or more of them have been caused by a condition known as exercise-associated hyponatremia (EAH), which reduces blood sodium levels.
What happens is that drinking large amounts of water overwhelms the kidneys so much that they are rendered unable to excrete excess water, and the sodium in the body gets diluted. The direct result of this is swelling cells, which has been known to be life threatening.
The paper, published in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, the June issue, does offer some advice. It turns out that the condition is easy to avoid if you drink only when you’re thirsty while exercising.
The report led by Tamara Hew-Butler, DPM, PhD, at the University of Oakland (Rochester) says that “Using the innate thirst mechanism to guide fluid consumption is a strategy that should limit drinking in excess and developing hyponatremia (low blood sodium) while providing sufficient fluid to prevent excessive dehydration”.
People can recognize experiencing mild forms of exercise-associated hyponatremia if they feel lightheaded, dizzy, nauseated, if they get puffy or if they start gaining weight while performing physical exercises.
Severe forms of exercise-associated hyponatremia can be recognized if you start vomiting, experience headaches or an altered mental status (such as feeling confused, agitated or in delirium), go through a seizure or get into a coma. Severe exercise-associated hyponatremia can easily be fatal if the athlete isn’t careful and doesn’t quickly begin treating the condition.
Participants at this year’s International Exercise-Associated Hyponatremia Consensus Development Conference, the 3rd in recorded history, got together to update the guidelines and make people aware of them after two (2) high school students on the football team died last summer from dilutional exercise-associated hyponatremia. The experts hope to re-educate the public and prevent further deaths from occurring due to drinking too much water while working out.
The medical team says that athletes are especially in danger of exercise-associated hyponatremia during the summer months and that they should be even more aware of their actions during this time as heat can easily make an athlete drink more than needed.
The report stresses that both athletes as well as coaches should start differentiating between good hydration and bad hydration, and drink water appropriately according to which faze of an athletic event they find themselves in – before beginning to exercise, while exercising, after finishing the exercises.
The majority of exercise-associated hyponatremia deaths have been recorded in the United States.
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