Water retention is a type of swelling that occurs due to the abnormal fluid retention in the body. Water retention is medically termed as edema. Hands, arms, face, abdomen and lungs are commonly affected with edema.
In most cases, fluid retention does not cause serious problems. But sometimes, it causes dangerous effects on the body. Conditions that cause fluid retention include heart failure, cirrhosis of the liver, kidney failure, premenstrual syndrome and preeclampsia (a harmful condition in late pregnancy). Discuss water retention with a physician if you are concerned about the dangers of this symptom.
The human body, to regulate water levels, uses a complex system of hormone-like substances. Excess water intake one day can be resolved by the kidneys quickly excreting the excess urine, while a lack of fluids on another day may result in much less urination that usual.
Up to 70 percent of our body is water:
Muscle is made up of approximately 75 percent water
Fat consists of about 50 percent water
Bones are made up of about 50 percent water
You can easily retain as much as 5 pounds of water by the end of the day depending on the types of foods you have consumed, your hydration levels, and your activity levels for that day. Carrying excess water weight means you tend to retain more fluids during the day, especially if food intake consists of fatty, processed products.
An increase of sodium in the diet is one of the main causes of excess fluid retention. Unfortunately, sodium is present in nearly all processed foods, as well as some natural foods you consume. Your kidney and hormones naturally regulate a delicate balance of sodium and potassium in your system. Consuming high-sodium foods knocks this system out of balance, causing edema.
One of the best ways to reduce water weight is by keeping your sodium intake at 1,000 milligrams per day. Read labels on foods and stay away from processed products as much as possible. Also, avoid adding table salt to your foods. Lightly salt meals with sea salt when cooking, and do not add extra salt at the dinner table.
Calcium supplements reduce your risk of fluid retention. Researchers recommend taking 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day. Other ways to reduce water weight include eating small meals during the day and trying natural diuretics such as grapefruit or lemon water. Never take over-the-counter diuretics because you run the risk of potassium depletion.
Exercising is very beneficial when trying to rid yourself of water weight. Physical activity widens your blood vessels, leading to an increased amount of fluids to the kidneys. Once the fluid reaches your kidneys, it will be excreted. Always remember to stay properly hydrated throughout the day as well. Surprisingly, the more water you drink, the less you retain!
The most common symptom of edema during the menstrual period is unexplained weight gain. Weight gain may be observed over a period of couple of days all of a sudden. Swelling of the hands and feet, heaviness in the breast are also caused due to water retention. If water content in the body is very high, then if pressed on the skin, an indent may be seen for a few seconds, which is a symptom of water retention.
Excessive fluid build up in the body is usually seen affecting the feet, ankles, lower legs as well as other parts of the body. Most of the time, it is the ankles and feet that swell due to the action of gravity. There are a number of causes that lead to swelling of extremities. Swollen hands and fingers are common signs of premenstrual syndrome in women. Also, many pregnant women often complain of swollen hands and feet. The pressure on the pelvic veins due to the bulging uterus causes the blood to pool. This pressure causes the blood to push water into the tissues and they retain excess water. Thus, the extremities of pregnant women tend to swell. Gym goers, walkers as well as joggers often complain of swelling in their hands and fingers when they begin with a regimen. Carpal tunnel syndrome that affects the upper limb function, also leads to swelling of the upper extremities.
People who tend to stand for long hours like hair stylists, teachers, ticket collectors, etc. suffer from puffy ankles and swollen feet. Also, sitting for long hours or traveling and walking all day will also lead to swollen feet. This is because of poor or reduced blood circulation, obesity, hormonal imbalance, high blood pressure, hot and humid climate, etc.
Edema with joint pain may be a sign of an underlying condition like chronic venous insufficiency. When one of the valves in the veins gets damaged, it causes the blood to flow backwards. This causes it to get accumulated in the leg tissues, leading to swelling. Other conditions like congestive heart failure leads to this condition as well. Lymphedema is a condition that occurs due to damaged or blocked lymphatic system; this causes swelling in the arms and legs.
There are many heart, liver and kidney diseases that lead to this condition. These diseases cause fluid to build up and a person to gain weight. Arthritis is a condition that causes swelling in extremities and joint pain. When there are excessive red blood cells, white blood cells and platelet production in the body, it leads to polycythemia. This causes increase in blood thickening and clotting of blood in tiny veins. When this blockage occurs, it may lead to edema of the extremities.
The following self-help measures may help to reduce the signs and symptoms of water retention for some people:
Cut down salt consumption.
If are overweight, lose weight.
Raise the legs several times per day to improve circulation.
Wear supporting stockings if the water retention occurs in your lower limbs.
Don’t sit or stand sin one position for too long.
Get up and walk about regularly when travelling by car, train, boat or plane.
Avoid extremes of temperature, such as hot baths, showers, and saunas.
Some types of fluid retention respond very well to medicines. These medicines are called 'water pills' or diuretic medicines. They work by forcing your kidneys - which remove fluid from your blood and produce urine - to work harder. Several ordinary beverages are natural diuretics, including tea, coffee and alcohol. Alcohol is an especially powerful diuretic.
If you are thinking of taking diuretic medicines for fluid retention, here's some important advice. First check with your health care provider to ensure that your heart, liver and kidneys are healthy. Some people have fluid retention as a result of problems with these organs. If this is the case, then do follow your doctor's advice.
Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one. Take good care of yourself and live the best life possible!
The information included in this column is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.
Glenn Ellis, is a Health Advocacy Communications Specialist. He is the author of Which Doctor?, and is a health columnist and radio commentator who lectures, and is an active media contributor nationally and internationally on health related topics.
His second book, released in 2012, is, “Information is the Best Medicine.” For more good health information, visit: www.glennellis.com.