Tragic Teen Death Atributed to Overhydration


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The recent death of a high school football player from overhydration underscores the dangers of drinking too much liquid in a short time.

Last week, Zyrees Oliver, a 17-year-old football player at Douglas County High School outside Atlanta, collapsed after football practice and hours later fell into a coma. On Monday, he was removed from life support, according to The Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Physicians reportedly told the family that the teen experienced massive swelling of the brain due to overhydration. The family noted that the youth drank 2 gallons of water and 2 gallons of Gatorade after football practice. An autopsy is planned to determine if an underlying condition was also present.

”When you drink too much water, especially if it’s done rapidly, the water shifts into the cells, causing the cells to swell, and the cell dies. In this case, the brain, which is in a rigid box, the skull, it has nowhere to go. If it begins to swell, the brain rapidly dies,” Dr. Mark Flodin, a physician in Tampa, Florida, explained in an interview with WTSP 10 News about the teen’s death.

Overhydration, though rare, is a real danger. In 2007, a California woman, Jennifer Strange, 28, took part in a radio station contest in which participants competed to see who could drink the most water without going to the bathroom. According one report, Strange died hours after she drank two gallons of water. Her death was attributed to water-intoxication, medically known as hyponatremia.

Despite the tragic case of Strange, the risk for hyponatremia is generally believed to be greater in athletes because they commonly drink copious amounts of fluids to prevent dehydration while exercising.


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A 2005 study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, highlighted the extent of the problem when researchers evaluated blood samples of runners participating in the Boston Marathon.

According to the study, out of 488 runners evaluated, a whopping 62 had consumed too much water and were diagnosed with hyponatremia. The researchers identified three runners with critical hyponatremia.

"These observations suggest that hyponatremia — and particularly severe hyponatremia — may be a greater problem than previously recognized,” writes lead study author Dr. Christopher S.D. Almond of Harvard Medical School. "If our sample was representative of the overall 2002 Boston Marathon field of runners, we would estimate that approximately 1,900 of the nearly 15,000 finishers had some degree of hyponatremia, and that approximately 90 finishers had critical hyponatremia.”

The good news is that overhydration is avoidable. Prevention tips offered on the website of the Mayo Clinic note that athletes and non-athletes alike should drink water in moderation, and that thirst and the color of your urine are usually the best indications of how much water you need. “If you’re not thirsty and your urine is pale yellow, you are likely getting enough water,” according to the website.