The water-intoxicated patient

Arch Psychiatr Nurs. 1990 Oct;4(5):308-12. doi: 10.1016/0883-9417(90)90049-q.


In a long-term psychiatric setting, self-induced water intoxication may be a life-threatening situation. At first glance, the symptoms or behaviors of self-induced water intoxication are similar to schizophrenia, i.e., inappropriate behavior, delusions, hallucinations, confusion, and disorientation. In some cases, the symptoms of water intoxication mimic schizophrenia and thus, are disguised as a part of the psychoses. Affected individuals develop polydipsia, which is accompanied by overhydration and dilutional hyponatremia. If untreated, the symptoms may progress from mild confusion to acute delirium, seizures, coma, or death (Ripley, Millson, & Koczapski, 1989). Under normal circumstances there is a delicate balance of water requirement and water intake. If the balance of water is altered, electrolyte imbalance can occur. The recognition of water intoxication or self-induced water intoxication and psychosis among chronic, institutionalized patients may prevent their death or the development of neurological damage (Arieff, 1985). Because self-induced water intoxication often goes unrecognized in its early stages and may have irreversible or fatal complications, early detection is crucial. This article will discuss the etiology, nursing assessment, and interventions associated with patients suffering from self-induced water intoxication.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nursing Assessment
  • Water Intoxication / diagnosis
  • Water Intoxication / etiology
  • Water Intoxication / nursing*