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Water intoxication can occur in a variety of different clinical settings but is generally not well recognised in the medical literature. The condition may go unrecognised in the early stages when the patient may have symptoms of confusion, disorientation, nausea, and vomiting, but also changes in mental state and psychotic symptoms. Early detection is crucial to prevent severe hyponatraemia, which can lead to seizures, coma, and death.
The patient reported here was a 64 year old woman with a known history of mitral valve disease but no other relevant past history. On the evening before her death, she began compulsively drinking water in vast quantities, estimated at between 30 and 40 glasses, and this was interspersed with episodes of vomiting. She became hysterical and also distressed, shouting that she had not drunk enough water. She declined medical attention but continued to drink water after she had gone to bed. She …