Water Retention

Help for preventing the causes of body water retention and fluid retention.

Select a Topic

  1. What is Water Retention?
  2. Diagnosing Water Retention
  3. What Causes Water Retention?
  4. Help for Water Retention
  5. More Information on Water Retention

What is Water Retention?

Water retention is also known by its more medical term, edema. This is a condition that results when water leaks into the body tissues from the blood. In normal circumstances, the fluid is drained from the body tissues through the lymphatic system – a network of tubes throughout the body that removes waste and extraneous material and empties it back into the bloodstream.

Water retention problems arise when fluid is not removed by the lymph system properly; it is retained in the body tissues where it causes swelling (edema). Water retention in the body is most common in the feet and legs, but it can occur in the hands, arms, abdominal cavity (ascites) and around the lungs (known as pulmonary edema).

Types of Water Retention

There are two main categories of water retention, generalized edema and localized edema. Generalized edema refers to swelling that occurs throughout the body while localized edema refers to the swelling in specific parts of the body.

Water Retention and Weight Gain

It is very common for even healthy adults to experience weight fluctuations due to water retention, which accounts for many day-to-day fluctuations on the scale. While most people can retain up to five pounds of "hidden" water weight within the natural fluid that surrounds cells, known as extracellular fluid, those who are overweight or suffer from obesity people may retain up to eight to ten pounds.

Water Retention and Menopause

As women enter menopause, nearly 90% will gain weight from a shift in hormones. While most women expect to experience hot flashes, many are surprised by weight changes. However, some of this weight is just appearance-based due to water retention and bloating from decreased progesterone levels. While this isn’t fat-related weight gain, many women will notice a change in the way their clothes fit and experience the feeling of being heavier.

However, even the weight unrelated to water retention is not necessarily unhealthy per se, as it helps prepare the body against osteoporosis and other illnesses. Try to focus on health and maintaining an active lifestyle and water retention and bloating will generally resolve itself within a few months.

Water Retention and Hypertension

High blood pressure and water retention go hand in hand, as hypertension can result from too much fluid in normal blood vessels or from normal fluid in narrow blood vessels. Blood pressure measures the force of blood against the walls of your blood vessels, and if it remains high over time is called hypertension. It is therefore very important to manage fluid levels, which can affect blood pressure.

Water Retention and Diuretics

Many people are interested in using diuretics to treat water retention. Whether natural or synthetic, diuretics increase the amount of urine excreted and are usually used prescribed for patients with blood pressure, congestive heart failure, and liver disease. Diuretics also have the potential for creating a vicious cycle of water retention, known as rebound edema, as they alter salt- and water-retaining hormones. When the diuretics are stopped, hormone levels are out of balance.

In addition, prolonged use of diuretics can lead to dehydration, which can cause kidney damage and an imbalance in normal levels of electrolytes (e.g., sodium and potassium), which are vital to heart, kidney and liver function. When electrolytes are out of balance, it may follow by heart failure and sudden death.

Many people also turn to diuretics for weight loss, which only leads to temporary results and potentially other health problems. Since water retention has many causes, it is important not to begin taking water retention medication without proper medical supervision.

Diagnosing Water Retention

The diagnosis of water retention is determined by a physical examination, the symptoms presented as well as medical history. Various tests such as blood tests, urine tests, liver and kidney function tests, chest x-ray or an electrocardiogram (ECG) may also be performed to determine the cause.

If water retention is a symptom of a serious underlying disorder, the disorder must be treated first.

Symptoms of Water Retention
  • Feeling of puffiness, especially the feet, ankles and legs
  • Appearance of shiny, stretched skin
  • Dimples/indentations upon pressing the skin
  • Swollen, stiff and painful joints
  • Headaches
  • A bloated or enlarged abdomen
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Decreased flexibility of the joints (ankles, wrists and fingers)
  • Sudden or rapid weight gain

Shortness of breath, chest pain, redness or heat in the swollen edematous area(s) are rare but serious symptoms that should receive immediate medical care.

What Causes Water Retention?

Causes of body water retention depend on a wide range of factors including high salt intake, as a reaction to hot weather, gravity, nutritional deficiencies, burns as well as sunburn and as a side effect of certain drugs. Pregnancy, oral contraceptives such as the pill, the menstrual cycle, and menopause are also known causes of body water retention.

Weight Gain

One of the main causes of weight-related water retention can be attributed to sodium intake, particularly from processed foods. In addition, since sodium is present in all foods, a higher intake of food in general also contributes to weight gain from fat stores and subsequent water retention.

People dieting may experience frustrations in weight fluctuations related to water retention. Many people turn to diuretics or water pills, which create a false sense of weight loss. Reducing calories too quickly also forces the body to use up stores of carbohydrates and breakdown protein in the muscles, which also leads to water weight stored in those cells- sometimes with up to 75% of weight loss related to water weight. However, after calorie ingestion is resumed to a normal level, the water weight is restored as well.


Fluctuating hormone levels, hormonal imbalances, and a loss of progesterone can attribute to water retention in menopausal women. Unless the weight gain is excessive, it should not be a cause of concern and can be self-managed.


While it is not entirely known why high blood pressure occurs, a strong genetic component has been indicated. Other risk factors for high blood pressure include smoking, alcoholism, and high salt intake, being overweight, lack of exercise, and high levels of stress. Conditions known to cause secondary hypertension include Cushing’s syndrome, diabetic nephropathy, kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, obesity, and many more.

Since many of the above conditions are linked to water retention such as salt intake and obesity, it is important to receive a proper diagnosis and take measures to control blood pressure and fluid levels in the body.

Thyroid Problems
  • Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism is caused by an underactive thyroid gland that produces insufficient levels of thyroid hormones. Symptoms are often varied and difficult to define, therefore a symptom such as water retention may be mistakenly attributed to another condition. Many people with an underactive thyroid gland may be unaware of the problem.

While a blood test is needed to confirm hypothyroidism, clinical history, antibody screening tests, and thyroid scans typically accompany this test to help identify the underlying cause.

  • Hyperthyroidism

Hyperthyroidism, also known as an overactive thyroid, overproduces hormones. As the thyroid controls vital systems of the body from metabolism to body temperature, a variety of symptoms can result, including water retention.

A blood test is usually the method of screening used to test for hyperthyroidism.

Kidney Infection/Disease

The kidneys are responsible for many important functions of the body, including removing toxins in the body via expelled urine and helping balance the volume of fluid in the body. When the kidneys are not performing these functions due to infection or disease, water retention may be experienced.

Additional causes
  • Hot Weather: Warmer temperatures hinder the body’s efficiency of removing fluid.
  • Postpartum Depression: A change in hormonal levels after pregnancy may lead to water retention.
  • Seasonal Allergies: Those who are prone to seasonal allergies may experience fluid retention, especially around the eyes and face.


This condition may also be symptomatic of other serious diseases such as heart failure, liver disease, arthritis, allergic reactions, thyroid diseases such as hypothyroidism, chronic lung diseases, malignant lymphoedema or kidney disease.

Help for Water Retention

Treatment involves rectifying the underlying causes of body water retention. A low dose of diuretic (water pill) may be prescribed to reduce swelling. In more severe cases of water retention, where the blood vessels are blocked or damaged, surgery may be required.

Water Retention and Weight Gain

To avoid water retention during a weight loss period and avoid regaining the water weight back, it is important to reduce losing water weight as much as possible so the body is forced to burn fat stores, not carbohydrate or protein stores. This can be attained by eating small portions of high-quality protein at each meal, reducing food intake gradually, including anaerobic exercise into a fitness routine, avoiding crash and starvation diets, training for strength to increase muscle, and losing weight slowly (2 pounds per week max).

Water Retention and Menopause

Natural treatment for menopausal water retention is much the same for other causes of edema. Many of the same tips apply for maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding water retention during menopause, including eating a balanced diet and avoiding crash and starvation diets, limiting intake of caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol (these can exacerbate water retention), and remaining active to help increase metabolism and burn fat plus protect against osteoporosis. Most women stabilize any water retention weight within a few months.

However, if weight gain is excessive, check with your doctor to make sure hormone and blood sugar levels are normal, as excess abdominal fat increases the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure.

Water Retention and Hypertension

Avoid diuretics if you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, as these may have additional health risks for your condition. Instead, strive to achieve healthy fluid balance and blood pressure through a healthy lifestyle, including eating a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight, limiting sodium, alcohol, and caffeine intake, and getting plenty of exercise.

Water Retention and Diuretics

It is best to address the root cause of water retention rather than relying on diuretics, which only provide temporary relief and may create lasting health problems. You can also eliminate excess fluid naturally, by incorporating foods such as celery, onion, eggplant, asparagus, and watermelon into your diet, which are said to have a diuretic effect. 

Also be sure to keep foods high in sodium to a minimum, limit caffeine and alcohol, and follow a healthy lifestyle. Exercise can help relieve the body of excess fluid and salt through sweating, increased respiration and, ultimately, increased urine flow. While it may seem counterproductive, drinking water helps water move through the kidneys and bladder, diluting the urine. Since urine has some fluid-retaining salt in it, the more it's diluted, the easier it is to remove salt and prevent or decrease edema.

More Information on Water Retention

Tips for Preventing and Treating Water Retention
  • Water retention remedies such as eating a well-balanced diet and reducing your intake of salt will make a marked difference.
  • Drink plenty of water so that the body is well hydrated.
  • Exercise regularly, especially by walking, to help pump fluids back into the circulatory system.
  • Limit your intake of dehydrating drinks such as coffee, tea, and alcohol.
  • Increase your intake of vitamin B supplements which are known to be beneficial for water retention.
  • Wear support stockings or elastic sleeves to help push fluids back into your circulatory system and help circulation.
  • Remember to elevate the affected area when sitting or lying down.
  • If you are overweight or suffer from obesity, try to take the appropriate steps to lose weight and slim down to a healthier weight in a safe and natural manner.
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