Can you over hydrate?

10th March 2020

Everyone’s heard the advice that you should drink at least 8 glasses of water per day in order to avoid symptoms of dehydration, including headaches, dry skin and a lack of energy. But is it possible to be too hydrated?

Can you over hydrate?

The simple answer is yes, you can over hydrate. Your body contains a delicate balance of water and electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, calcium, chloride and magnesium, which work together to maintain healthy bodily functions. This includes muscle function, blood and heart rhythm, among other functions.

If you don’t drink enough water, that balance is thrown off so it makes sense that if you drink too much water, the balance is thrown off in the opposite direction. Being over hydrated means that your electrolyte levels aren't balanced and sodium levels can plummet, causing issues with the heart and nervous system.

What happens if you over hydrate?

Symptoms of overhydration can be hard to spot but these usually include nausea, vomiting, headaches and confusion or disorientation. If your sodium levels get dangerously low, these symptoms may progress to include muscle weakness, seizures or unconsciousness.

It may not be very common, but overhydration is certainly a serious matter that can cause death. However, there’s only ever been 14 cases of confirmed overhydration deaths and all of them have occurred in athletes.

How does overhydration happen?

There are two main ways that a person can become overhydrated. The first is increased water intake (where you drink more water than your kidneys can remove) and the second is water retention (where your body can’t get rid of water properly).

Both causes of overhydration are equally as serious, but each kind has a different set of people who are at risk. Athletes are the group who run the risk of drinking too much water, along with people taking drugs that increase thirst (such as ecstasy and antipsychotic drugs).

Meanwhile, excessive water retention can be caused by a number of other medical conditions, including liver disease, kidney problems and uncontrolled diabetes.

How do I stay perfectly hydrated?

It seems that the 8-glass-a-day rule that we’ve all heard is a pretty good guideline. The Institute of Medicine has recommended that the average healthy adult needs 9-13 cups of fluid per day. However, this may be dependent upon age, weather and activity level so there isn’t an exact figure to work to.

The best way to stay adequately hydrated is to listen to your body. Your body generally knows how to tell you when it needs something, and thirst cues are a good indicator that you’re not drinking enough.

Dehydration is a much more common problem than overhydration, so use your urine colour as an indicator to whether or not you’re drinking enough. A pale yellow colour is perfect, whereas a darker urine means you need more water. If your urine is consistently clear then it could be a sign that you’re drinking too much.

The best and fastest solution to either dehydration or overhydration is simply to alter your water intake. If you’re dehydrated, drink some water and you think you may be overhydrated then don’t drink any more for a couple of hours.

However, if you’re dealing with symptoms of dehydration then a rehydration solution like Dioralyte could help. On the other hand, if you’re constantly experiencing feelings of excessive thirst then you should see a doctor, as this could be a sign of underlying health problems.