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How much water should we drink?

We hear a lot about water and consuming the right amount a day to keep hydrated but how much should we drink and can we drink too much?

Drinking water at every opportunity can cause serious problems, such as hyponatremia or water intoxication. Eventually the kidneys will not be able to work fast enough to remove sufficient amounts from the body and as the water content of the blood increases, the salt content is diluted. Consequently the amount of salt available to body tissues decreases, which can lead to problems with brain, heart and muscle function.

Drinking too much water can eventually cause your brain to swell, stopping it regulating vital functions such as breathing. This swelling is a problem in the brain. When the brain swells it does not have anywhere to go because it's in your skull and the pressure cause by this swelling may cause a headache. As the brain is squeezed it compresses vital regions regulating functions such as breathing. Eventually these functions will be impaired and you are like to stop breathing and die. Drinking several litres over a relatively short period of time could be enough to cause water intoxication. Those most at risk are people taking ecstasy, as the drug increases thirst and also the elderly because their kidney function may be impaired.

Treatment includes giving patients diuretics to help decrease their water load, or use drugs to reduce the swelling caused by excessive water.

In climates such as the UK, we should drink approximately 1.2 litres (6 to 8 glasses) of fluid every day to stop us getting dehydrated. In hotter climates the body needs more than this so your fluid intake should be increased in hotter weather.

One of the first signs of dehydration is feeling thirsty. If you think you might not be getting enough fluids, checks if you are showing any of these other common signs of dehydration:
  • Dark coloured urine and not passing much when you go to the toilet.
  • Headaches
  • Confusion and irritability
  • Lack of concentration
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Editor: Ryan Cranston

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All content within this article is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. Health Matters is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made by a user based on the content of the Health Matters website. Health Matters is not liable for the contents of any external internet sites listed. Always consult your own GP if you're in any way concerned about your health.

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