Can you drink too much water? Here’s what the experts say – WTOP News

While most people have heard the advice to drink eight glasses of water a day, there is some flexibility and people are able to drink both too much and too little, although the latter is more common.

While most people have heard the advice to drink eight glasses of water a day, there is some flexibility and people are able to drink both too much and too little, although the latter is more common.

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Drinking too little can lead to dehydration which can cause a range of symptoms from dizziness to, in some extreme cases, death. Drinking too much also has potentially dangerous impacts because too much water in the body affects the body’s electrolyte balance, experts said. They shared advice on how much a person should drink and the signs that someone has been drinking too much water and if the right balance exists for the average water drinker.

How much water should you drink in a day?

While eight cups of water is a good rule of thumb when it comes to how much to drink, people also ingest liquids from the food they eat and other drinks. About 20% of your daily fluid intake usually comes from food. Between water, other beverages and food, adult men living in temperate climates need to ingest about 15.5 cups of fluids a day, according to the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Adult women living in temperate climates, with average annual temperatures that are not extremes, need to ingest about 11.5 cups of fluids per day. Women should drink more in a day if they are menstruating, pregnant or breastfeeding.

The amount of water also varies depending on the climate and time of year. On a hot day, much of the fluids ingested are sweated out as the body tries to cool itself down. The average person has 2.6 million sweat glands and when a person sweats they lose water and electrolytes.

Power outages prolong California's heat crisis
A roofing worker takes a drink break during hot weather. (Courtesy of Getty Images)

Drinking enough water and having enough electrolytes keeps the body functioning properly. Dehydration can cause dizziness, confusion, fatigue and extreme thirst. It can lead to more serious symptoms, such as heat exhaustion, heat exhaustion, seizures, or kidney failure.

Can you drink too much?

YES. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises people to drink no more than 48 ounces, or six cups, per hour. Too much water or other liquids, such as sports drinks, can cause a medical emergency because the salt concentration in the blood becomes too low.

When that happens, the body’s water levels rise and cells swell as your body tries to regulate electrolyte concentrations, which can cause health problems, said Dr. Mahesh Polavarapu, medical director of the New York Emergency Department. York-Presbyterian Westchester.

«If you have too much water, it will basically push that water into your cells to balance the concentrations of sodium and other electrolytes,» Polavarapu said. «So as that happens, your brain cells and other cells in your body start to swell.»

Drinking too much isn’t a common problem, and the average, healthy adult should focus on hydration, health experts told CBS.

«This is not something you should worry about, you should drink as much water as you think you need,» Polavarapu said.

Overhydration is seen most frequently in endurance athletes, people with kidney problems and those taking certain medications that can cause excessive thirst, such as antidepressants and diuretics, experts said. Older people are also more at risk due to age-related declines in general organ function, which can increase someone’s vulnerability to overhydration.

What are the signs you’ve been drinking too much water?

This is where things can get tricky, said Jason Ewoldt, a registered dietitian at the Mayo Clinic. Many of the symptoms of overhydration can be confused with symptoms of dehydration. Both can cause nausea, muscle cramps, and fatigue. There are a few key ways to tell the difference.

«Being aware of thirst and urine color is the easiest way to limit the possibility of both overhydration and dehydration,» Ewoldt said.

If you’re thirsty, chances are you should drink more water. Dark yellow urine is also a sign to drink more.

Clear urine is a sign that you may need to pull things and drink less.

What could happen if you drink too much water?

Too much water is associated with a condition called hyponatremia, which occurs when the salt concentration in the body is too low. It is also called «water intoxication». Drinking large amounts of water in a short period of time alters the body’s electrolyte balance.

When someone drinks too much, their kidneys may not be able to keep up and excrete the excess water.

«If you drink too much pure water, the solutes in your body have to spread out to extra space and you can have electrolyte disturbances that cause serious brain problems and you can have seizures,» Dr. David Metz, who served as a professor of medicine at Perelman University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, he said.

Other symptoms of hyponatremia may include nausea, vomiting, headache, altered mental status/confusion, fainting, lethargy, and coma. In some extreme cases, it can lead to death.

In a 2007 incident, Jennifer Strange, 28, a mother of three from California, died of acute water intoxication after participating in a water drinking contest. A radio station challenged participants to see who could drink the most water without using the bathroom. At the time of the incident, one of Strange’s colleagues said the victim «told one of our supervisors that she was walking home and her head was hurting badly … She was crying and that was the last time anyone had heard from her.

A 17-year-old football player died in 2014 in Georgia after drinking two liters of water and another two liters of Gatorade during practice.

How should you drink water safely in hot weather?

Tips for drinking water in hot weather
When working in the heat, the CDC recommends drinking 1 cup of water every 15 to 20 minutes. This translates to three quarters to one quarter per hour. (Disease Control and Prevention Courtesy Centers)

Drink before you feel thirsty, advises the CDC. If you work outside in the heat, drink about 1 glass of water every 15-20 minutes. This translates to three quarters to one quarter (24 to 32 ounces) per hour. Drinking more often is more effective for hydration than drinking large amounts infrequently.

«People think of thirst as the thing that drives them to drink water. Thirst is almost a later sign of dehydration, so don’t try and wait for that to happen,» Polavarapu said.

While drinking water is important to replace water lost in sweat, it’s also important to eat regular meals to replace salt lost in sweat and maintain electrolyte balance, according to the CDC.

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