“Water retention, also known as fluid retention, refers to an excessive buildup of fluid in the circulatory system, body tissues, or cavities in the body.” – Medical News Today
Our bodies mostly consist of water. Water is located in our blood, bones, muscles and organs. While our bodies certainly need water to function, it can sometimes hold too much of it – this buildup of water in our body is called water retention. Water retention manifests physically, making the body appear abnormally swollen.
In most cases, short-term water retention itself is not a serious problem, nor does it cause any serious health dilemmas. However, water retention over the long term can produce unsafe effects on the body. Underlying health conditions that may produce fluid retention as a side-effect include cirrhosis of the liver, heart failure, kidney failure, preeclampsia (a dangerous, pregnancy related condition), and premenstrual syndrome.
Water retention may result from a number of things. Here are the top five reasons that we retain water (and suggestions on what to do).
5 Reasons Your Body Retains Water (And How to Avoid It)
Sodium (i.e. salt or table salt) is an essential nutrient that serves a number of important functions, but we only require small amounts. Too often, the foods we eat have excessive amounts of salt, inducing fluid retention and weight gain.
Recommendation: First, know the recommended amount of sodium intake: 2,300 milligrams or less per day, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA); this may sound like a lot – but it’s only about a teaspoon of salt. Second, limit your salt intake by using alternatives, such as herbs and spices. Cumin, dill, garlic, ginger, oregano, onion, sage, and pepper are all viable choices. Lemon juice, mustard, and vinegar may also add some flavor without all the salt.
Sitting or standing for an extended period causes body tissue to hold water. Having a sedentary, inactive lifestyle can also cause water retention. Either scenario produces physical symptoms, including swollen ankles and legs.
Recommendation: It is important to keep blood circulating throughout the body. If your job requires you to sit at a desk all day, use your breaks to get outside and move around a bit. Park further away from the building, so you can enjoy a refreshing walk in before a long day’s work. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Don’t be afraid to get creative! If you’re inactive, it’s important that you first understand the benefits of exercise. You don’t need to train like Jillian Michaels or Gunnar Peterson – try getting 15 to 30 minutes of light to moderate exercise three times per week.
Many prescription medications list water retention as a side effect. Rx meds known to increase fluid retention include antidepressants, beta-blockers, blood pressure medication, chemotherapy medication, and over-the-counter NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).
NSAIDs are worth paying particular attention to, as the drugs are used by more than 30 million Americans on a daily basis to relieve various kinds of pain. The most common NSAIDs are aspirin (Bayer, Bufferin, Excedrin), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and naproxen (Aleve).
Recommendation: Tapering off Rx medication requires consultation with a physician. The reason for medical oversight are the withdrawal symptoms often experienced as the body adapts to lower amounts of the drug. A doctor’s visit may also be wise if you notice excessive swelling from NSAIDs or other pain-relieving medications.
It’s very common for women to experience severe bloating during perimenopause (early menopause) and menopause – which is often a byproduct of “water retention, intestinal gas, decreased bile production, or a combination of the three.”
The hormones estrogen and progesterone play a significant role in fluid retention. Water retention may occur when estrogen levels are too high or when progesterone levels are too low. Hormonal imbalance is why fluid retention is very common during the premenstrual phase.
First, take a good look at your diet and eliminate or reduce foods that seem to cause bloating and gas (do some research here.) If this doesn’t solve the problem, it may be necessary to see a dietitian, who will likely test for allergies and food intolerances. In rare cases, hormone replacement therapy or hormonal rebalancing under the guidance of an OB/GYN may be necessary.
5. Heart problems
Fluid retention from a heart condition may be evident in swelling of the legs and abdomen. While this is certainly a scary proposition, it is important to refrain from jumping to conclusions. Per WebMD, some common symptoms of heart failure include lightheadedness, fatigue, rapid heart rate, weakness, and shortness of breath.
Recommendation: See a doctor right away. The risk of heart failure increases the longer medical intervention is delayed. The attending physician may order one or more tests, including blood tests, a chest x-ray, electrocardiogram (ECG), cardiac computerized tomography (CT) scan, and/or cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan.