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Understanding Water Retention : Causes, Symptoms, and Management Strategies

  1. Introduction

    1. What is Water Retention?

      Water retention, also known as edema is a condition in which the body is unable to maintain fluid levels. This leads to excessive accumulation of fluid in the body tissues. It is mostly observed in the legs, ankles, feet, and also the face and hands.

      The body is composed of 50-60 percent of water and when the hydration level is not balanced it leads to water retention.(1)

      Understanding Water Retention : Causes, Symptoms, and Management Strategies

    2. Importance of Addressing Water Retention

      Addressing water retention is important as it leads to discomfort and impacts the quality of life. It can be due to an underlying condition that needs to be identified and addressed. Excessive fluid retention can also be due to increased blood pressure levels. By addressing water retention through dietary changes and reducing sodium chloride levels, the blood pressure level can also be maintained.

      Water retention during pregnancy can be a sign of preeclampsia or other pregnancy-related complications. Early detection and management of water retention are important for the well-being of both mother and the child.

      For those experiencing persistent water retention, it is recommended to consult a healthcare professional to get evaluation and guidance according to the situation.

    3. Purpose of the Article

      The purpose of the article is to provide awareness of water retention. It aims to explain the causes, symptoms, and importance of addressing it.

      The article offers strategies and tips to manage water retention, emphasizing lifestyle changes that can alleviate the symptoms and reduce fluid accumulation. It intends to educate the readers about the potential causes and implications of water retention.

  2. Understanding Water Retention

    1. Overview of the Body’s Water Balance

      The body’s water balance refers to the regulation and maintenance of the proper amount of water in the body.

      Water plays an important role in physiological functions including digestion, absorption, circulation, waste removal, and temperature regulation.

      There are several mechanisms that control water balance.

      • Thirst: There is a sensation of thirst when the level of the water in the body drops below a certain threshold. It is a signal to the individual to consume fluids and replenish water stores.
      • Kidney Function: The kidney plays a vital role in maintaining water balance by filtering waste products and excess water from the bloodstream. They regulate the concentration of water by the process of urine formation. The amount of urine produced is influenced by hormone level and hydration status.
      • Hormone Regulation: Antidiuretic hormone (ADH) produced by the pituitary gland and aldosterone produced by adrenal glands regulate water balance.(8) ADH controls the absorption of water by the kidney. Aldosterone regulates sodium and potassium level that impact water balance.
      • Fluid Intake and Output: The amount of fluid consumed through food is lost through urine, sweat, respiration, and feces. This determines the water balance.
      • Electrolyte Balance: Electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, chloride, and bicarbonates, play a crucial role in maintaining balance. These regulate the fluid distribution within the body and maintain proper cellular function.
    2. Causes and Factors Contributing to Water Retention

      Water levels in the human body are regulated by a complex system. Hormonal factors, the cardiovascular system, the urinary system, the liver, and the kidney play role a role. Any problem with these parts makes the expelling of the fluid difficult.

      The different causes of water retention are as follows:

      • Capillary Damage: Capillaries are tiny blood vessels that play a major role in managing fluid balance in the body. Certain blood pressure medications can cause damage to the capillaries. Interstitial fluid is delivered by the capillaries to the surrounding tissues. This fluid supplies nutrients and oxygen to the cells and then returns to the capillaries. If the capillaries are damaged, edema can occur, which may be due to the change in pressure inside the capillaries.(1) In such cases, too much water leaves the capillaries and enters between the cells. If the capillaries are not able to reabsorb the fluid, it stays in the tissues leading to water retention.
      • Congestive Heart Failure: When a person’s heart stops working properly, the blood pressure changes. This can lead to fluid retention. A person may observe swelling in the legs, feet, ankles, as well as lungs. Congestive heart failure can also put stress on the heart and therefore can be life-threatening.
      • Lymphatic System: The role of the lymphatic system is to carry lymph through the body. Lymph is a fluid in the white blood cells. It helps the immune system to defend the body against infection. The lymphatic system reabsorbs the fluid and helps the body in maintaining the fluid balance. If any problem including cancer, infection, and blockage prevents the lymphatic system from working properly, there can be fluid build-up around the tissues. This can lead to swelling in various parts of the body.
      • The Kidneys: If the kidneys do not work properly, they cannot remove waste material including sodium. This makes fluid stay in the body.(2) People with chronic kidney disease often notice swelling in their lower limbs, face, and hands.
      • Pregnancy: The body tends to hold more water during pregnancy which leads to swelling in the lower limbs, especially during hot weather. Changes in hormones also contribute to fluid retention. In case the swelling gets severe, it may point towards pre-eclampsia, a type of high blood pressure that can be threatening to the mother as well as the fetus.
      • Physical Inactivity: Sedentary lifestyle can also lead to water retention in the lower extremities, which can be due to the underuse of the calf muscle to lose strength.
      • Obesity: A person with obesity may experience swelling due to the extra weight. Obesity increases the risk of high blood pressure, kidney disease, and heart disease, and all of these can lead to edema.
      • Malnutrition: Albumin is a protein that plays a role in managing fluids in the human body. In case of severe protein deficiency, it gets harder for the body to move interstitial fluids back into the capillaries.
      • Infection and Allergies: When inflammation occurs, histamine is released by the body, which causes gaps between the cells of the capillary walls to widen. This is done to allow the infection-fighting agents to reach the site of inflammation. This can also lead to a leak of fluid from the capillaries to the surrounding. This leads to short-term swelling. People with long-term swelling may experience water retention.
      • Medications: Certain medications including calcium channel blockers, gabapentin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, prednisone, and diabetes medications can lead to water retention.(3)
      • Hormonal conditions: Menstruation, thyroid problems, and Cushing’s syndrome can lead to water retention.
    3. Common Symptoms and Signs of Water Retention

      The symptoms of water retention may depend on the area affected.

      In cases where limbs, feet, and hands are affected, the symptoms include:

      • Swelling
      • Changes in skin color
      • Shiny and puffy skin
      • Stiffness in the joints
      • Weight gain

      Fluid retention may also affect the brain. It is known as cerebral edema. There may be blurred vision, headache, vomiting, and difficulty with balance.(4)

      Excess fluid in the lungs is known as pulmonary edema, which may indicate a serious problem with the heart and respiratory system. There may be difficulty in breathing, cough, chest pain, and weakness.

      Diagnosis and Treatment for Water Retention

  3. Diagnosis and Treatment for Water Retention

    1. Diagnostic Procedures for Water Retention

      The doctor takes the medical history of the patient and performs a physical examination. The extent and the distribution of edema are assessed including the overall appearance of the skin including the color and texture.

      The test performed include:

      • Laboratory Test: Blood test including kidney function test, complete blood count, liver function test, electrolyte test, and thyroid function test. A urine test is done to get information about the kidney and rule out proteinuria or urinary tract infection.
      • Imaging Studies: X-ray is performed to evaluate the heart, lungs, and bones for any abnormalities. Ultrasound is done to create images and can be useful in examining the kidney, liver, or blood vessels. Echocardiogram is done to produce images of the heart, that help in evaluating the structure and function.
      • Additional Test: Some special tests including lymphoscintigraphy can be done if lymphedema is suspected.
    2. Treatment Options for Water Retention

      Most cases of water retention are solved without treatment. Diuretics are given to help remove fluids from the body. These are short-term options and can lead to side effects including dehydration, increased water retention, and kidney damage.

      • Home Remedies: Certain natural diuretics such as dandelion extract can help in reducing the amount of water retained in the body.(5)
      • Elevation: For edema in the lower limbs the person is advised to keep the limbs elevated several times a day.
      • Clothing: A person with edema is advised to wear loose clothing for comfort and allow the fluid to circulate.
      • Diet: Sodium consumption increases water retention.(6) Limiting salt intake can be helpful for keeping sodium levels in a healthy range. Another research has also found that magnesium supplements can reduce premenstrual symptoms that include water retention and bloating.(7)
  4. Prevention and Management Strategies for Water Retention

    There are certain lifestyle modifications that can help in preventing water retention.

    • Balanced Diet: Eating a healthy and well-balanced diet and limiting the intake of processed and high-sodium foods can help keep water retention in check.
    • Adequate Hydration: Keeping the body hydrated helps in maintaining the balance of fluids and may help reduce water retention.
    • Limiting Alcohol and Caffeine Intake: Alcohol and caffeine can have a dehydrating effect and may contribute to water retention.
    • Regular Exercise: Regular exercise promotes circulation and prevents fluid build-up. It also stimulates the lymphatic system and plays a role in fluid balance.
    • Compression Garments: For lymphedema compression garments are recommended and these help in preventing fluid accumulation.
    • Managing Hormone Changes: If cyclical edema related to hormonal changes is experienced, a healthcare professional should be reached to discuss potential treatment options.
  5. When to Seek Medical Help

    If someone experiences sudden and severe swelling, difficulty in breathing, pain, and redness, or worsening swelling, a doctor should be consulted. Also, if uncertain or concerned about symptoms, it is best to seek medical advice.

    A doctor can be the best person to assess the situation and provide proper diagnosis and treatment.

  6. Conclusion

    Water retention, also known as edema or fluid retention is the fluid build-up in the body. It can occur in cavities, tissues, and the circulatory system.

    Swelling is the primary symptom of water retention. Most of the cases of water retention resolve without medical intervention. By maintaining proper diet and lifestyle balance water retention can be prevented.

Also Read:

Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:July 17, 2023

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