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Can You Overhydrate? Symptoms of Overhydration

Reviewed by
Date published
07/06/2022
Date last updated
25/05/2022
Length of read
5 Minutes

While we are continuously being reminded of both the dangers of dehydration and the

benefits of water, it is less common to hear about overhydration and the complications it can cause. While dehydration can impact many aspects of our health, what are the symptoms of overhydration?

What Is Overhydration?

Overhydration is certainly possible and while rare, is something to be aware of. Our bodies contain a carefully structured balance of both water and electrolytes – these include potassium, sodium, calcium, magnesium and chloride. These electrolytes work with one another in order to maintain and support healthy bodily functions such as heart rhythm, blood rhythm and muscle function, among many other roles.

In the same way that this balance can be disturbed if we don’t drink enough water and become dehydrated, it can also be thrown off if we drink too much. Overhydration is a condition in which electrolyte levels become unbalanced and sodium levels drop, causing further complications with the nervous system and heart.

What Are The Causes Of Overhydration?

There are generally two main causes of overhydration – increased water intake and water retention.

Increased Water Intake

Increased water intake is usually associated with either athletes who are at risk of drinking an excess of water due to such high activity levels, and people who take drugs that increase thirst; these can include antipsychotic drugs and ecstasy. An increased water intake results in you drinking more water than your kidneys can safely remove, which then leads to overhydration.

Water Retention

Water retention, however, is caused by other medical conditions and complications, including but not limited to uncontrolled diabetes, kidney problems and liver disease. Water retention occurs when there is an excess of fluids in the body, and happens in the circulatory system or within cavities and tissues. For the majority of healthy people, drinking too much will rarely lead to overhydration, as normal functioning kidneys will be able to excrete excess water safely.

What Are The Symptoms Of Overhydration?

While symptoms and signs of overhydration can often be difficult to notice, they can include:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation.

While these are usually the initial symptoms, if sodium levels within the body get dangerously low, symptoms may progress to include seizures, muscle weakness and unconsciousness.

Too much water within the body can also lead to water poisoning and intoxication, as well as a disruption to the brain’s function. When there is an excess of water in the brain cells, they can begin to swell, causing pressure to the brain. Though the number of cases are low (and usually occur within athletes), overhydration can be serious enough to cause death.

How Can I Avoid Overhydration?

The guidelines of how much water we should consume haven’t changed very much in recent years, which makes them both easy to remember and reliable.

“Research shows that 8 glasses of water a day is what we should be aiming for as this is enough to keep us adequately hydrated.”

However, it’s worth noting that this is aimed at an average healthy adult’s lifestyle, and many people may find they require more than this to keep them hydrated. There are many different aspects that will affect the number of fluids we need to drink in a day, including our age, activity level and the climate in which we live – the hotter the weather, the more water we need to consume.

Regardless of guidelines and figures, one of the best ways to keep adequately hydrated is by listening to the needs of your body. Thirst cues are the best indicators of when we need to increase our water intake, with the body also telling us when it has had enough water. With dehydration being a much more common problem than overhydration, it is dehydration that is the more likely threat to our health.

Urine is generally a good indicator of our hydration levels, and should be used to signal whether or not more liquids are needed. Dark urine indicates that you are dehydrated and your body requires more water, whereas a pale yellow coloured urine shows perfect hydration. Constantly clear urine may be a sign that you’re drinking too much, though this will vary for each individual.

Tips To Drink More Water Safely

If you’re someone who struggles to remember to stay hydrated, there are many ways that can help keep you motivated. Understanding the right amount of water your body requires is important in avoiding both dehydration and overhydration, so here are some tips to help you get the right balance.

  • Set reminders for drinking fluids on phones or apps
  • Set trackers on phones or apps so you can keep up with how much you’re drinking
  • Drink a glass of water before each meal if you forget to drink throughout the day
  • Flavour your water with berries or other fruit if you struggle with the taste
  • Set yourself a daily goal to achieve so that you’re not drinking too much or too little.

Staying on top of your hydration is critical for good health and should be a priority every day.