splash of water in drinking glass with sliced lemon

Hydration is important, but can we drink TOO much water?

splash of water in drinking glass with sliced lemon

Take out any lifestyle magazine and flip to a random page. There’s a good chance you’ll find the same tip. Drink more water. Are you experiencing dry skin? Drink water! (That’s a myth.) Are you feeling sane? A form of self-care is to drink lots of water. Are you having trouble sleeping? You need water!

It’s easy to feel pressured to drink eight glasses of water every day, despite all the pro-hydration advice. We don’t deny that water is essential for our health. However, becoming dehydrated can cause a host of issues. It is possible to drink excessive water when it comes to hydration. Here are the facts about overhydration (drinking more water than you should), along with signs, risks and treatment options.

Can you drink too much water?

Yes, there is a problem with drinking too much water. But why is it so bad? Christina Lang, MD, intern medicine and pediatric physician at UCHealth Fort Collins, says that the kidneys can produce up to 28 liters per day but only one liter per hour. Drinking more fluid than that can cause water intoxication or electrolyte imbalances.

Natasha Trentacosta MD, a sports medicine specialist at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute, Los Angeles, says athletes can become dehydrated if they consume too much water. Hyponatremia can result from excessive sodium intake.

Dr. Trentacosta also explains that people suffering from certain kidney diseases may become dehydrated even if they drink large quantities of water. This is because their bodies are unable regulate the excretion water in their urine. She says that large amounts of water, even up to 6 gallons, can be managed by our bodies natural ability to regulate water excretion through the efforts of the pituitary, kidneys, liver and heart. The upper limit can be reduced if any of these organs is dysfunctional.

How much water do you need to drink each day?

You’re not the only one wondering how much water to drink every day. The varying recommendations can be confusing. Dr. Trentacosta says that staying properly hydrated involves drinking between 30 and 50 ounces of fluid per day, and consuming it throughout the day. She explains that water can be taken from drinks or water-rich, or ‘wet,’ snacks such as fruit and vegetables. A properly hydrated person will have clear and pale urine.

Signs you are drinking too much water

Dr. Lang states that confusion, disorientation and nausea are the most common symptoms of excessive water intake. Dr. Lang says that severe cases may also present with muscle crampings, weakness, increased blood pressure and double vision.

What happens to your body when you drink too much water? Dr. Trentacosta says that overhydration is caused by electrolytes being lost. The brain is sensitive to sodium levels and can cause hyponatremia, which may manifest as lethargy or altered mental state.

What are the greatest risks associated with drinking too much water

Although it is uncommon, drinking too much water can lead to death. As Dr. Trentacosta explained earlier, excessive water intake can lead to a drop in sodium levels in the blood, which can cause hyponatremia. Dr. Lang explained that this can cause fluid shifts in the cells, especially the brain. A person may experience brain swelling (cerebral embolism) if they drink more than their kidneys can handle and/or do not have enough electrolytes to replace. This can lead to death.

How to treat and prevent overhydration

Dr. Lang suggests that instead of dealing with the consequences of drinking too much water, it is better to just avoid it altogether. If you have any of these symptoms and it is too late, Dr. Lang recommends that you seek immediate medical attention due to the possible effects hyponatremia has on your brain.

According to the Mayo Clinic, severe hyponatremia may be treated by a member your healthcare team who will administer a sodium solution IV to slowly replace your sodium levels. You will likely need to be admitted to the hospital to ensure your sodium levels are not increasing too rapidly or too fast. You may be prescribed medication by your healthcare provider to manage symptoms such as headaches, nausea, or seizures.

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