Too much of anything can kill you, water included.
A 28-year-old California woman, who died within hours of taking part in a water-drinking contest run by a radio station, is the latest victim of the rare condition of water intoxication.
Jennifer Lea Strange was found dead in her Sacramento-area home by her mother about 2 p.m. on Friday. Earlier that day, at about 9 a.m., the mother of three had participated in a contest called "Hold Your Wee for a Wii" sponsored by KDND 107.9 The End, a Sacramento-based top-40 radio station.
The grand prize was a popular Nintendo Wii video-game system. Ms. Strange and about 18 participants competed to see how much water they could guzzle without going to the washroom. Witnesses have told reporters that the contest lasted for about three hours.
Assistant Sacramento County coroner Ed Smith said that a preliminary autopsy couldn't determine exactly how much water Ms. Strange had consumed, but it was "excessive."
The investigation found that the young medical secretary had no life-threatening medical conditions and that her sudden death was "consistent with a water-intoxication death."
The Sacramento sheriff's department has ruled out investigating the death as a criminal matter.
Water intoxication, or water poisoning, is caused by hyponatremia, a potentially fatal condition when a person consumes a large quantity of water and their bodily fluids become overly diluted, causing sodium levels to fall below normal. This can lead to brain swelling, seizures, coma and, in severe cases, death.
Symptoms of water intoxication can include lightheadedness, nausea, headaches, vomiting, blurred vision, muscle cramps and behavioural changes.
"There are no hard-and-fast rules about how much water is too much," said Marcello Tonelli, a kidney specialist at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. "However, I think it's reasonable to recommend drinking when you're thirsty, and drinking extra when the weather is hot or during and after exertion. The vast majority of people who get into trouble with water intoxication are drinking litres and litres of water, often at very rapid rates or over long periods of time."
John Geary, a marketing manager and vice-president for Entercom Sacramento, the radio station's owner, said that station staff are stunned by Ms. Strange's death and are "awaiting information that will help explain how this tragic event occurred."
According to one of Ms. Strange's co-workers, she had called her supervisor on Friday shortly after she left the contest and complained that her head was hurting and that she was going home for the day.
During the contest, participants were initially handed 237-millilitre bottles of water to drink every 15 minutes. After people started dropping out to go to the toilet, the remaining competitors, who included Ms. Strange, were reportedly given larger quantities to drink.
Water-intoxication-related deaths caused by intentional or forced over-consumption are rare. One of the most high-profile cases happened on Feb. 2, 2005, when a 21-year-old man died after a fraternity hazing event at California State University's Chico campus.
Police reported that Matthew Carrington was forced to repeatedly drink from a 19-litre jug of water and do calisthenics. He eventually suffered a seizure and later died. Four members of the fraternity later pleaded guilty in connection with Mr. Carrington's death, including one who was charged with involuntary manslaughter.
With a report from Associated Press