Dangers of too much water

January 29, 1991|By Knight-Ridder News Service

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- A northern California flight attendant anxious about taking a urine drug test was having trouble urinating. So she drank a glass of water -- and another -- and another.

After guzzling 3 liters in three hours, she still couldn't urinate. But hours later, the 40-year-old woman staggered into a Burlingame, Calif., hospital, her speech slurred, her thinking fuzzy. The diagnosis: Drunk -- on water.

The flight attendant is the first drug-test taker known to have "water intoxication," doctors reported recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association. There have been only seven other reportedcases of healthy people with the dangerous condition, which water-logs brain cells and a dilution of body minerals. One died.

Because many people have an anxious inability to urinate on demand in tense settings, there's a great potential that others could become dangerously drunk on water as thousands of Americans face nerve-racking drug tests, Burlingame doctors David Klonoff and Andrew H. Jurow warned in the article.

Most people who drink too much water will naturally become nauseated and stop, but someone facing a drug test "will continue to drink because the worker is afraid if he doesn't give a sample, he might lose his job or damage his career," said Dr. Klonoff.

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