How to Tell If You Have Water Poisoning

How to Tell If You Have Water Poisoning
Photo: 7ciJvxpn-w2gZu, Shutterstock

It’s not news that drinking water is very important. There’s been plenty written on how to determine the amount you should be drinking every day and then find creative ways to hit that mark. What might come as a shock, though, is that you can actually drink too much water — and doing so could be very hazardous to your health. Here’s what you need to know about water poisoning.

What is water poisoning?

Water poisoning or water intoxication occurs when you drink so much water that there’s too much of it in your cells, according to Dr. Dan Brennan, who wrote about the topic for WebMD. Those cells swell up, and the ones in your brain can cause pressure in your brain, so you might become confused, drowsy, or have a headache. If this goes on, you could end up with high blood pressure or a low heart rate.

Sodium is particularly affected by overhydration, which can lead to a condition called hyponatremia. When the sodium concentration in your blood is abnormally low, you could feel nauseous, throw up, have a headache, be confused, have less energy, become irritable or restless, experience muscle weakness or spasms, or even have seizures or enter a coma. In serious cases, you can die.

How will you know if you’re drinking too much water?

Per WebMD, watch the colour of your pee. It shouldn’t be clear too often, although that’s subjective. Also bear in mind that contrary to popular belief, what your urine looks like reflects what your body is trying to get rid of, not what’s actually in your body right now.

You should be peeing about six to eight times a day, on average, though if you’re a big-time water or coffee drinker, you can expect to go up to 10 times. Just keep track and make sure you’re not exceeding that too often.

The symptoms listed above, like nausea or lack of energy, can look similar to the symptoms of dehydration, but don’t be fooled by your body into drinking more water. Look for discolouration of your hands, feet, and lips. When you’re overhydrated, they may swell or become discoloured.

So, how much water is too much water?

In one case that was the subject of research published in the Journal of Clinical Pathology, a 64-year-old woman was estimated to have consumed 30 to 40 glasses of water the night before she died. That’s a considerable amount that you’re probably not coming anywhere near matching, but the amount you really need is pretty subjective. It’s based on your body makeup, the climate where you live, your sex, and how much physical activity you do. In 2019, a doctor told Lifehacker that women should aim for a little over two litres (or nine cups) of total fluids each day while men should go for three litres (or 13 cups). If you exercise, are in a hot or dry climate or consume a lot of diuretics (like caffeinated drinks), or take medications that require more water consumption, you will need more.

The good news is your body will tell you when you’re thirsty — and you should just listen to it. WebMD recommends being “aware of when your body needs” water. While it probably won’t be harmful to you to try to meet some arbitrary water-consumption goal each day, try instead to practice mindful drinking and only sip when you’re thirsty.

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