Is Too Much Water a Bad Thing?

Written by: James Smith

Updated: March 16, 2023

Surely water poisoning is a myth right? Well, you might be surprised! We explain the phenomenon and how it can be prevented.

pouring water into glass

Everyone knows that water is good for you. Without water, life on earth would not be able to exist.

We’re always told that we need to drink more water, but is there such a thing as too much water? Can a person die from drinking too much water? How much water is too much?

These are the questions that we will be answering today.

Surely something that nourishes and sustains life can’t be that bad? Well, the answer is actually quite surprising. Let’s look at some of the dangers of drinking too much water.

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Water Intoxication

When you drink too much water too fast, you can get water poisoning or hyponatremia. Water intoxication causes a disruption in your brain function which can lead to a few serious symptoms. When you drink water, it increases the water in your blood. When there is too much water in your blood, it dilutes your electrolytes and sodium levels. When the sodium levels fall below 135 mmol/L, it’s called hyponatremia.

drinking water on a beach

It is important to keep your sodium levels balanced because sodium is what balances the fluids between the inside and outside of your cells. When the sodium levels fall, the balance between the fluids is lost and your cells begin to swell up. This could happen to your brain cells which could lead to fatal consequences. When you drink too much water, it causes water intoxication which dilutes the blood sodium levels and causes your cells to swell.

But how do you know if you have water poisoning? In the next section, we’ll take a look at the symptoms that highlight a problem.

Symptoms of hyponatremia

When your brain cells begin to swell, there will be increased pressure inside of your head. When this happens, you will experience the beginning effects of water intoxication. These effects include headaches, nausea, and vomiting.

Although these initial symptoms are not overly severe, they should be treated nonetheless. If left untreated they could develop into something much more severe.

drinking water from a bottle

The later stages of water intoxication are a lot more serious. When water intoxication intensifies, you will begin to experience the following symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Double vision
  • Muscle cramping
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Drowsiness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Muscle weakness
  • Inability to process sensory information

If there is too much water in the brain, it can result in cerebral edema which can cause central nervous dysfunction. If left untreated, hyponatremia can result in seizures, comas and in some cases, even death.

These are all very severe symptoms which are caused by the increased pressure in the skull. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it would be a wise idea to contact your doctor as soon as possible.

If you think you are drinking too much water, you might want to reduce your water intake and check to see if you are drinking a healthy amount of water. This leaves the question; how much is too much?

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How much water is too much?

When you drink too much water, your kidneys cannot filter it fast enough and the extra sodium in the water ends up diluting your blood.

Often the problem is not how much water you drink, but how quickly you drink it. If you try and drink all the water you need at once, this will lead to overhydration. You need to drink a healthy amount of water over an acceptable period of time.

pouring water from a bottle

On average, you should not drink more than one liter of water per hour. Your kidneys cannot handle more than that at a time, and if you drink more than that, you are in danger of overhydration. A grown male’s kidneys can process up to 7 gallons (28 liters) of fluid every day, but they cannot take more than 1 liter per hour.

Try to make sure that you drink enough water throughout the day, but do not try to drink it all at once. If you are very thirsty, sip your water slowly throughout the day. This will allow your kidneys to work at a healthy rate and will prevent overhydration. Overhydration leads to water intoxication, and as we have learned, that is not a pleasant experience for anyone to endure.

How much is enough?

Now that we know what your kidneys can and cannot handle, we should find out how much water you should be drinking. It might not be a good idea to test your kidneys to the max every day. The amount they can handle is not necessarily the amount you should be drinking.

Many people believe that you should drink 8 glasses of water every day, but this is a common misunderstanding. For example, a large man that exercises frequently is going to need to drink more water than a small, inactive person.

The best way to know how much to drink is to listen to your body. Drink water when you are thirsty.

Although there are other factors to consider. You need to drink more if you are an athlete or if you are pregnant. If you fall into either category, you need to drink a little more water than normal to maintain good hydration.

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Secondary drowning

Another cause for concern is secondary drowning from drinking too much water. Secondary drowning is caused when water is taken in suddenly through the nose and mouth and it causes spasms later on.

By inhaling even a very small amount of water, the lungs can be irritated and swell up. This can stop the lungs from providing enough oxygen for the bloodstream.

This usually happens after a swimming accident or a near-drowning incident. This usually won’t happen from drinking water, but if you experience any chest pains, trouble breathing or fatigue, it would be a good idea to go to a doctor.

Wrapping up

Water is good for you, and it is very important that you remain hydrated. The way to do that is by drinking when you’re thirsty and listening to your body.

Just be aware that your kidneys have a limit to how much water they can process effectively. By drinking overly large amounts of water, they may not be able to keep up.

Overhydration is not extremely common, but it does happen. By listening to your body you can reduce the chance of it affecting you.

If you enjoyed this article then don’t miss our post about the 10 most polluted rivers. I can’t promise it’ll be cheery, but it’s definitely interesting!

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About the Author James Smith

James is the chief water geek here at His mission is to empower the consumer and allow people to take control of their health. His passion for water health is contagious, hopefully unlike your tap water!

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