7 Signs You’re Drinking Too Much Water

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Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

No matter what medical issue you’re dealing with, the advice is usually to drink more water. In fact, a lot of health advice makes water sound like some magic elixir you can’t have enough of. And water is absolutely necessary to survive. But what we don’t often get told is that you can have too much of a good thing, drinking water included.

“We're constantly being told the benefits of regularly drinking water, and more often than not, these benefits stand true,” Morgan Statt, Health and Safety Investigator at ConsumerSafety.org, tells Bustle. “From boosting your immune system to clearing your skin, you'd be hard-pressed to find something water doesn't help with. But, unfortunately, it is possible to drink too much water.”

Statt warns against drinking more than 27-33 fluid ounces (about three and a half to four cups) per hour. This can cause your blood sodium levels to drop dangerously low, which leads to a condition called hyponatremia. Symptoms include fatigue, vomiting, confusion, headaches, and sometimes death.

The effects of drinking too much water are usually not this severe, but they can be very disruptive. Here are some signs that you could be drinking too much water or other fluids:

1. You’re Peeing All. The. Time.

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Frequent urination can be both uncomfortable and embarrassing. And while it can stem from a number of medical issues, the number one cause is actually drinking too much water, Dr. Sangeeta Mahajan, MD, a urogynecologist at the University Hospital Case Medical Center, tells Bustle. If you’re peeing more than seven times day, dial back your water consumption and see if the problem goes away. And if your issue is constantly getting up to pee at night, limiting fluid intake before bed may be especially important.

2. Your Pee Is Clear

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Dark yellow pee is a bad sign, but so is completely colorless pee, says Statt. Ideally, your pee should be light yellow. According to UC San Diego Health, transparent urine might suggest you're drinking too much water and diluting crucial electrolytes. If your urine is dark yellow, however, you might want to actually consider drinking more water.

3. You’re Getting Cramps

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Excessive urination can lead to a loss of potassium, a mineral that helps your body contract and relax your muscles, says Statt. Without it, you might notice yourself more easily cramping, and the Mayo Clinic's page on hyponatremia symptoms backs this up. Potassium is actually an electrolyte, and when you're constantly flushing out your body, you can lose too much of it.

4. You’re Fatigued

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When your kidneys are working overtime to filter out all the water you’re consuming and balance your fluid levels, you might experience adrenal fatigue, as well as a rise in stress hormones, says Statt. The National Kidney Foundation explains that your kidneys are a pretty powerful organ. Not only do they balance out your body's pH, they also filter waste and help get rid of extra fluid. Drinking too much water doesn't do them any favors.

5. Swollen Hands & Feet

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When your blood sodium levels are imbalanced, fluids may rush to correct them, leading to swelling in your hands and feet, Statt adds. Some swelling is common once in awhile if you ate a lot of salty foods. In that case, your body would retain water to dilute it. But swelling due to over-hydration is a whole other story and can be dangerous.

6. Headaches

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Sodium imbalances resulting from over-hydration can also fill your cells with fluids, leading your brain to swell, says Statt. This puts pressure on your skull, which can lead to a headache. In fact, according to a 2018 report published in the Kidney International Reports journal, studies have shown that "hyponatremia carries a significant risk of neurological impairment," even if brain swelling doesn't occur.

7. Drinking When You're Not Thirsty

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Thirst is the best indicator that you need water, Statt explains. One study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that our swallow reflex diminishes once we've had enough to drink. So, lack of thirst could mean you've hydrated enough. That being said, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends women drink 2.7 liters of water each day and that men drink 3.7 liters each day.

Many of these signs don't indicate over-hydration in of themselves, so also check your urine color and the frequency with which you're going to the bathroom. If you've over-hydrated, Statt recommends avoiding water and instead having a sports drink, which can replenish your electrolytes. If you’re experiencing symptoms of hyponatremia, you’ll want to go to the doctor’s to get a saltwater injection and any other treatments necessary to restore your body’s electrolyte balance.

Studies referenced:

Gankam Kengne, F. and Decaux, G. (2018). Hyponatremia and the Brain. Kidney International Reports, 3(1), pp.24-35. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5762960/

Saker, P., Farrell, M. J., Adib, F. R. M., Egan, G. F., Mckinley, M. J., & Denton, D. A. (2014). Regional brain responses associated with drinking water during thirst and after its satiation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(14). doi: 10.1073/pnas.1403382111

Sources interviewed:

Morgan Statt, Health and Safety Investigator at ConsumerSafety.org

Dr. Sangeeta Mahajan, MD, urogynecologist at the University Hospital Case Medical Center

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