Don't Drink Too Much Water

With the Houston Marathon and Half-Marathon only a week away, a Houston doctor is warning inexperienced runners against drinking too much water during the race. He says it could actually kill them. Houston Public Radio's Jim Bell explains.

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Dr. James Muntz of The Methodist Hospital is the team doctor for the Houston Astros, Rockets and Texans, so he knows a little something about athletes' health problems. Muntz says drinking too much water while running reduces sodium levels in the body and it can cause a problem called hyponatremia, which is very serious.

"People that get acute symptomatic hyponatremia, or acute low sodium, can have significant medical problems, and end up in the Intensive Care Unit, have seizures and actually die from it."

Muntz says nationwide, a handful of distance runners die of hyponatremia every year. He says experienced marathoners know about this potential problem, but inexperienced amateurs may not know of it, or what the symptoms are.

"And they can be pretty subtle. Slight confusion, irritability, nausea without vomiting, so again we encourage in the race and after the race to replace with sports drinks." 

Muntz recommends about one cup of fluid every 20 minutes during a race, and he prefers sports drinks instead of water because they have salt and electrolytes. And what if symptoms of hyponatremia show up anyway?

"People that experience symptoms ought to pull over. There's all kinds of medical assistance, nursing care, para-medical care, para-medics etcetera that are available to attend to these kind of things."

Muntz says symptoms of hyponatremia may not be apparent until several hours after a run, so runners should be on the lookout for them and be ready to see a doctor immediately if they have them. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.