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14 May 2018

Marathon runner narrowly avoids death after drinking too much water

The London Marathon was believed to be the hottest race on record, and in trying to cope with the heat, a marathon runner developed a deadly condition.

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A seasoned marathon runner had no recollection of finishing her race or the fact that she suffered a seizure once she was back home. 

Johanna Pakenham drank approximately 20 small bottles of water to cope with the heat during this year's London Marathon.

United Kingdom weather bureau, The Met Office, said that this year's London Marathon was the hottest on record.

Before Pakenham was diagnosed with hyponatremia, a condition which is also dubbed "water intoxication", her partner needed to perform CPR while waiting for an ambulance.

She told the Daily Mail that she thinks she drank a small bottle of water at approximately 20 water stations along the way, but failed to replenish her electrolytes with "energy" drinks.

"I had about 400 metres to go and I remember saying 'I feel wobbly' and my family couldn't believe I wasn't going to cross that finish line.

"There's a picture of me taken at the starting line and I look fine, then I had a photo taken at the finish line. I have no recollection of it being taken. I don't recognise the woman in that photo," said Pakenham.

Too much water is an actual thing

Hyponatremia, or water intoxication, happens when you drink too much water and the sodium levels in your body plummet to an unusual low.

Sodium is an essential electrolyte in your body, which helps nerves and muscles function optimally, along with keeping blood pressure stable.

Health24 says that consuming too much water causes cells in the body to swell. It also causes the brain to swell – and the pressure of the brain against the skull could result in seizures.

It could also result in heart failure, respiratory distress and renal distress.

Identifying water intoxication

Health24 adds that symptoms for hyponatremia could mimic the symptoms of heat stroke.

Symptoms include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Respiratory distress
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Dizziness
  • Seizures and possible comas

Red flags may also be a bad headache which keeps on getting worse, a temperature higher than 39.9 °C during or immediately after exercising, swelling of hands and feet, along with coughing up pink, frothy sputum.

Managing hyponatremia

Should you experience symptoms and think it may be hyponatremia, stop fluid intake and see a doctor as soon as possible.

A healthcare professional will determine the sodium levels in your blood.

If the causes behind hyponatremia are not obvious, doctors will investigate the patient's history. They will also look into other possible disorders and medications taken.

Blood and urine tests as well

Merck Manuals state that once a diagnosis is made, doctors will gradually replenish sodium content in the blood through an intravenous drip, and they may include a diuretic to increase excretion of excess fluid. Replenishing sodium levels too quickly may result in permanent brain damage.

Healthcare professionals should monitor sodium levels in the blood continuously until it normalises. In the interim, they may treat other conditions which may have been caused by the hyponatremia.

 
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