What is water retention?
Water retention also called fluid retention or edema, occurs when too much fluid builds up in the body. It can be the result of a variety of things, including hormonal changes, certain medications, and even sitting or standing for long periods. When water retention is severe, it can lead to swelling in the feet, ankles, legs, and hands. In extreme cases, it can even cause shortness of breath.
What causes water retention?
The truth is, there are so many things that can cause water retention, including:
- Hormonal changes: These are most common during pregnancy and menstrual cycles.
- Eating too much salt: This causes the body to hold onto water in an attempt to dilute the salt concentration.
- Certain medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), birth control pills, and steroids.
- Standing or sitting for long periods: This can cause fluid to accumulate in the lower legs.
- Pregnancy: The extra fluid that accumulates during pregnancy is caused by hormonal changes.
- Heart failure: This can cause fluid to build up in the lungs and other tissues.
- Kidney disease: This can cause sodium and water imbalances that lead to fluid retention.
- Cirrhosis of the liver: This results in decreased protein production, which can lead to fluid buildup.
- Venous insufficiency: This occurs when the valves in the veins don’t work properly, causing blood to pool in the legs and leading to swelling.
- Lymphedema: This is a condition in which the lymphatic system doesn’t work properly, causing fluids to build up in the tissue.
- Certain autoimmune diseases, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
Here are five signs that your body may be retaining water
1. You feel bloated
One of the most common signs of water retention is feeling bloated, especially in the abdominal area. This is because when your body retains water, it leads to an increase in fluid levels in your tissues, which can make you feel full or bloated. If you notice that your clothes feel tighter than usual or you have a hard time zipping up your pants, it may be a sign that you’re retaining water.
2. Your ankles, feet, and legs are swollen
Another well-known sign of water retention is swelling in your ankles, feet, and legs. This is due to the increased fluid levels in your body, causing fluids to pool in these areas. When you press on these areas, you may notice that the skin stays indented for a short period before returning to its original shape. This is known as pitting edema and is often a clear sign of water retention.
3. Increased weight gain
Fluctuations in weight are normal and expected, but if you notice a sudden or significant increase in weight with no other explanation (such as changes in diet or exercise), it could be due to fluid retention
4. Puffiness of the abdomen, face, and other areas
If you notice that your abdomen, face, and other areas of your body look puffier than usual, this could be a sign of water retention. That’s because when fluid builds up in the tissues, it can cause these areas to swell.
5. Stiff joints
When your body is retaining water, you may experience stiffness and pain in the joints because of the increased fluid levels, which lead to inflammation. This makes it difficult to move or even stand up straight.
How do I get rid of water retention?
There are a few things you can do to get rid of water retention or reduce the symptoms. Avoiding salt and eating lots of potassium-rich foods can help reduce fluid buildup. Exercising and elevating your legs when possible can also help move fluids around and reduce swelling. In some cases, doctors may prescribe diuretics (water pills) to help the body get rid of excess fluids.
Learn More: Foods to Reduce Water Retention
Frequently Asked Questions
Is there anything I can do to prevent water retention?
There are a few things you can do to try to prevent water retention, such as drinking enough fluids (aim for at least eight glasses of water per day), cutting back on salty foods, and exercising regularly.
Can water retention be harmful?
In most cases, no; however, if you experience sudden or severe swelling (especially in your face or hands), shortness of breath, or chest pain, call your doctor immediately, as these could be signs of a more serious condition called pulmonary edema.
How long does water retention last?
It varies depending on the cause—for example, pregnancy-related swelling should start to improve shortly after delivery—but in general, you can expect the bloating to subside within a few days to a week.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of water retention, there’s no need to panic—in most cases, it’s harmless and will resolve on its own with some simple lifestyle changes (like cutting back on salt). But if you’re concerned or the symptoms are severe, be sure to consult with your doctor—they’ll be able to help you determine if there’s any underlying cause that needs to be treated.