Water Retention symptoms, causes and treatment

Just like planet Earth being made up of 70% water, so our own body too, is made up of water.  Our human body consists of about 60% water and it could be found in our blood, organs, bones and muscles. Water is essential for our survival as it helps our organs and the whole body itself function properly.  It dissolves the nutrients we ingest and eliminates the waste resulting from consuming the nutrients.

Table of Medications

Read up


Water retention happens when our body misses and fails to remove excess water. It is usually short-term and can be treated easily if there is no other underlying severe medical condition. When water is retained in the body, the excess water remains in the tissues which gives way to swelling, particularly in the extremities.  If you are having water retention for more than one week, please don’t hesitate to consult with your health professional to find out what is causing it. Your doctor can help determine or rule out potential serious health issues. If the water retention you are experiencing is not due to serious medical condition, your discomfort will be relieved soon.  

Causes of Water Retention

There couldn’t be any less water in our system but there shouldn’t be any more than what is needed by the body to function normally.  We have been told to drink enough of this liquid and we have heard so much of the good it does to our bodies. However, your body can only take in such an amount of this liquid and more of it isn’t going to make the body function any better.  If the body retains excess water more than it can use in helping the organs process what they need to work, as much as 5 pounds, you will start to experience uncomfortable feelings and symptoms. Excess fluids in the tissues can build up and cause swelling, puffiness or a heavy feeling..  You can observe this in your feet, legs and ankles, as well as in the hands. If your ring won’t fit your ring finger, or you notice some weight gain and notice a “dimple” when you touch the fleshy part of your limb, you could be having water retention. 

Some of the main reasons that cause water retention include the following:

  • Poor diet or malnutrition
  • Being overweight
  • Excess insulin
  • Pregnancy
  • Underlying medical problems
  • Medication
  • Lack of movement or prolonged inactivity

Swollen feet, legs and ankles due to water retention can certainly bring discomfort to the entire body but in itself, it is not a sign of anything being seriously wrong with the body.  This could be caused by inactivity, poor diet and for women, could be due to normal hormonal changes before their monthly period. However, there are exceptions and water retention can indeed be a sign of a severe medical condition, especially if it becomes severe or the symptoms onset are sudden.

On some occasions, swelling brought by water retention can be the result of varicose veins. These varicose veins can now and then affect the small blood vessels and lead to swelling and inflammation.  This condition can be best treated by your health professional. Another condition related to this is deep vein thrombosis (DVT) caused by cancer, heart failure, pregnancy or prolonged immobility. You need to see your doctor if the swelling is localized in one specific area and accompanied by tenderness and pain. 

Diagnosis and Treatment of  Water Retention

Water retention can be diagnosed by your doctor by checking if the swollen area, pressing the skin over it and observing if there are dimples or indents left after pressing.   Your doctor will ask if you have recently gained weight or observed that your clothes, jewelry has started to feel tight and you’re having difficulties wearing them. To complete the diagnosis, the doctor may order you to have x-rays, urine and blood tests. Results will indicate if you need immediate medical attention. Remember that a salty meal or a woman’s menstrual period can cause water retention and such, it will improve on its own. However, if the doctor suspects another medical condition or as shown by the test results, further treatment might be needed. 

You can try doing the following under your doctor’s supervision:

  • Low-salt diet – limit your sodium intake to more than 2,300 milligrams. Refrain from eating junk and processed food, refined carbs, cereals and canned soup can also help.
  • Raise your feet – this will help move water retained in your ankles and feet.
  • Take medication – your doctor will know if you need to take a water pill or a diuretic to help expel extra fluid and sodium by peeing. Some doctors may recommend eating fruits and vegetables rich in potassium as well as magnesium.  Increasing vitamin B6 can also help reduce water retention. 
  • Wear compression stockings – these stockings squeeze your lower extremities gently and help in circulating blood in the blood vessels.
  • Drink diuretic herbal teas – certain herbal infusions can encourage urination and thus help expel body wastes and excess liquids.  This helps to diminish swelling in the legs, buttocks and stomach. 

Regular exercise or physical activities are necessary if you want to keep water retention at bay.  Bicycling, walking or even household chores can help to pump out the water or fluids present in your legs and ankles. Another benefit of physical activities is that the blood vessels are widened and help lower blood pressure. People in long-haul flights, those who are confined to wheelchairs or in hospital beds are prone to water retention mainly because of restricted or limited body movement. A walk around the office to take breaks can help reduce water retention caused by inactivity for those who have desk jobs.  Many people believe that drinking more water can bring about water retention although the surprising truth is that drinking more water can help reduce water retention. Not drinking more water can result in dehydration and give way to water retention. Ingesting more water will thus prevent the body from retaining water and other fluids to stop dehydration. 

What are the normal conditions

Lack of water means dehydration which in itself can lead to water retention and other serious condition if left  without treatment. As we have mentioned above, drinking water can indeed prevent water retention as there is a need for the body to conserve water and fluids to stave off dehydration. Proper hydration is of vital importance if we are to keep the basic functions of the organs in particular and the whole body in general. Water in the right amount keeps the body in optimal performance.  To encourage drinking water, some people resort to making their water taste better and add artificial flavors and sweeteners. This might look the way to go but you’d be putting yourself in harms way through this practice. The best alternative is to use fresh fruits and vegetables to flavor and make your water taste better. They can increase your rate of metabolism and flush unwanted toxins.  As we already know, our body is made up of about 70% water so it is better to drink clean and pure water after all. 

We have been brought to believe that drinking eight glasses of water daily is the best but the truth is that these eight glasses are only the minimum amount.  Drinking more water beyond this minimum can be based on your lifestyle or condition such as pregnancy or illness. If you are exercising or during a particularly hot day, it is imperative to drink more than usual and at a higher rate of replenishment as you are constantly losing water and other essential fluids from the body.  

Risks of Having Water Retention

Water retention doesn’t cause severe problems although in certain circumstances, it can cause dangerous effects and cause further problems in the body.  It can manifest in the body in various forms. The most common of them involves swollen ankles and legs, stiff joints, bloating of the body, skin discoloration, nausea, and even fatigue and persistent coughing. Although you might not connect some of these events with your heart and dismiss them as insignificant in so far as your heart is concerned, such types of water retention can signify heart trouble, especially for those individuals who already have a history of heart failure. Heart failure doesn’t happen overnight and it is usually the result of years for a person having clogged arteries and high blood pressure. Both conditions culminate in your heart’s failure to pump blood. Eventually, the kidneys activate hormones that trigger the body to hold fluid to boost the volume of the blood circulating in the body. 

Water retention can also be caused by kidney failure, cirrhosis of the liver, preeclampsia and premenstrual syndrome. 

When to Seek Medical Attention 

One sign of water retention or having problems involving fluid balance is obvious weight change and you can easily see this for yourself by weighing yourself. In most cases, people will have an 8 to 15 pound excess fluid before they see obvious signs of swelling in the legs and belly. However, upon reaching about 5 to 7 pounds of excess fluid, some people would develop warning signs such as dizziness or fainting, shortness of breath, chest pain, coughing, nausea, feeling full even without having eating something and loose stools. The best time to seek medical attention is to get one as soon as you notice weight gain and reduce inflammation not wait until the onset of the symptoms enumerated above because by then, you could already be having any number of serious health problems and not just the garden variety water retention. 

Table of Medications

  • furosemide
  • Lasix
  • hydrochlorothiazide
  • spironolactone
  • Aldactazide
  • Aldactone
  • Bumex
  • Demadex
  • bumetanide
  • metolazone