Mother of two dies from drinking too much water

Doctors urge people to continue consuming electrolytes alongside water on hot days

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Monday 07 August 2023 10:41 BST
Heat Wave Set to Expand Over Much of the US

An Indiana mother of two died in July after drinking too much water too quickly, according to her family.

Ashley Summers was enjoying a visit to Indiana’s Lake Freeman over the Fourth of July weekend when she told those around her she was feeling dehydrated, light-headed, and felt she couldn’t drink enough water. After consuming multiple bottles of water in a short span, she went home, where she passed out in her garage.

Her family rushed her to the IU Health Arnett Hospital, but she never regained consciousness, succumbing to water toxicity.

"It was a shock to all of us. When they first started talking about water toxicity. It was like this is a thing?" Devon Miller, Ashley’s brother, told WRTV.

"Someone said she drank four bottles of water in 20 minutes. I mean, an average water bottle is like 16 ounces, so that was 64 ounces that she drank in a span of 20 minutes. That’s half a gallon. That’s what you’re supposed to drink in a whole day," he added.

"It’s relatively rare," Dr Alok Harwani, a physician at the hospital, told WLFI. "Now, what we are concerned about is just drinking too much water in a short period of time. Your kidneys can really only clear about a liter of water per hour."

The doctor said it’s a good idea when spending a lot of time outside in hot weather to continue to eat or drink things with electrolytes, like fruit or Gatorade, in addition to plain water, helping maintain the balance of water and sodium in the blood.

Ashley Summers, an Indiana woman who died of water toxicity in July

"Things to look out for are if you just start feeling really out of it, very tired, very fatigued," he added. "Sometimes patients feel like they’re starting to have a mild headache, or are just feeling overall unwell. Those could be early signs of water intoxication ... So, if you’re really concerned that you or a family member is not acting right and you’re worried about water toxicity, don’t hesitate to call 911, don’t hesitate to go to the [emergency room]."

Deaths from water toxicity have happened before in a variety of contexts.

According to Scientific American, people have died from the condition in everything from a radio station’s on-air water drinking contest, to a fraternity hazing ritual in which a California university student was forced to drink copious amounts of water in between rounds of push-ups.

Clubbers, particularly those on drugs like MDMA, can be susceptible to the condition as they sweat profusely and rehydrate with water over hours of dancing.

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