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Overhydration: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis And Treatment

We all know how important it is to hydrate our bodies in order for them to function properly. Drinking adequate amount of water benefits the body in many ways such as preventing constipation, flushing out waste products, regulating temperature and performing all major bodily functions. But, did you ever wonder what happens if you drink too much water? Drinking too much water than your body needs is called overhydration (hyponatremia).

What Is Overhydration And What Causes It?

Overhydration occurs when you drink too much water. Drinking excess water increases the amount of water in the blood and this can dilute the electrolytes in the blood, including sodium. When the sodium levels are below 135 mmol/L, it's called hyponatremia. This drop in sodium level causes water to enter the cells of the body, causing them to swell up. And this can eventually lead to water intoxification causing a disruption in the functioning of the brain cells[1] .

Types Of Overhydration

  • An increase in water intake - When you drink too much water, your kidneys find it difficult to store it. This causes water to accumulate in the blood stream [2] .
  • Retaining water - This happens when your body can't remove water properly due to certain medical conditions like liver disease, kidney problems, congestive heart failure, uncontrolled diabetes, etc.

Symptoms Of Overhydration

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Muscle weakness and cramping
  • Drowsiness
  • High blood pressure

Who Is At Risk Of Overhydration?

  • Athletes
  • Cyclists
  • Hikers
  • Military members involved in training exercises
  • Rugby players

Diagnosis Of Overhydration [3]

Doctor will ask about your medical history to check whether the symptoms are caused due to overhydration or not. Then, he or she will perform a physical examination and will recommend blood and urine tests.

How To Treat Overhydration [4]

The treatment procedure depends on how severe the symptoms are. Drink less water or stop drinking water for another few hours, if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms. Also, you could eat some salty food to replace the lost electrolytes to help maintain a balance between the electrolyte and water content.
Taking diuretic medications or drinks will help increase the production of urine as well.

How Much Water Should You Drink Per Day

As per the Institute of Medicine, men should drink 3.7 litres and women should drink 2.7 litres of water.

View Article References
  1. [1] STORMONT, J. M., & Waterhouse, C. (1961). The genesis of hyponatremia associated with marked overhydration and water intoxication.Circulation,24(2), 191-203.
  2. [2] Groeneveld, A. J., & Polderman, K. H. (2005). Acute lung injury, overhydration or both?.Critical Care,9(2), 136.
  3. [3] O'Brien, K. K., Montain, S. J., Corr, W. P., Sawka, M. N., Knapik, J. J., & Craig, S. C. (2001). Hyponatremia associated with overhydration in US Army trainees.Military medicine,166(5), 405-410.
  4. [4] Ronco, C., Ricci, Z., Bellomo, R., & Bedogni, F. (2001). Extracorporeal ultrafiltration for the treatment of overhydration and congestive heart failure.Cardiology,96(3-4), 155-168.
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