Water Retention (Edema) – Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Water retention can be described as collection of excess of fluids in the tissues of the body and in medical terms it is called as edema. Water retention can occur due to many medical conditions and diseases and it does not necessarily be heart or kidney problems. Water retention is one of the common symptoms during premenstrual period. This problem gets worse for women as they grow old. Water retention can also occur due to unknown cause and is described as idiopathic edema. Though no cure is available for water retention without cause, still the symptoms can be managed by regular exercise and by wearing support stockings.

Water Retention Causes :

Small amount of fluid leaks out of blood vessels and gets collected in the nearby tissues. This process can occur even for healthy people having normal diet with less salt intake. Water retention is common for many people whose job involves standing for long hours. When a person keeps standing, there is extra pressure in the veins inducing water retention.

Sitting in the same position for extended hours, and going for long journey can also cause retention of water. In some cases water retention occurs due to retention of salt or sodium ions in the body. People who involve in binge eating can also develop water retention and this can happen also in the case of people who follow strict dieting.

Water Retention Symptoms :

Although water retention can occur anywhere in the body, it is quite common in the extremities like hands and legs. For some people swelling can occur in the abdomen, face and even on the breasts. The symptoms are intense during the evening and night and disappear next morning. There are people who gain weight in the evening due to water retention and get back to normal weight in the morning.

water retention

At What Places Water Retention Can Occur In The Body ?

  • Tissue Spaces :

Fluid that contains oxygen, nutrients and vitamins would pass from capillaries into the surrounding tissues. This fluid (interstitial fluid) gets back into the capillaries after nourishing the cells. However if there is excess of pressure in the capillaries (blood vessels) fluid can leak into the tissue spaces surrounding the capillaries.

Water retention occurs when excess of fluids flows into the tissue spaces instead of returning to capillaries. Similarly excess of pressure build-up in the lymphatic system can cause fluid retention, when the flow of fluids exceeds its capacity. Fluid leaks out of the system and collects in the tissue spaces available in the stomach, legs and hands.

  • Heart :

Heart involves in rhythmic pumping motion resulting in exchange of blood. But if the heart cannot function properly (due to some reason like heart failure) blood pressure increases in the heart causing water retention or pulmonary edema. Fluid gets collected in the feet and ankles as well leading to swelling. This condition can cause shortness of breath and persistent cough due to extra stress on the heart.

  • Kidneys :

Kidneys are responsible for filtering nutrients from the blood and retaining it and expelling the waste products. Renal arteries supply oxygenated blood to the kidneys through many tiny blood vessels called glomeruli. Filtration of blood takes place in the glomeruli or tiny blood vessels. If the glomeruli cannot work properly or if there is increase/decrease in the blood flow to the kidneys it can cause fluid retention. Waste products will not be eliminated from the kidneys properly leading to accumulation of toxic substances in the body.

Pregnancy :

Fluid retention is quite common during pregnancy which will automatically resolve after child birth.

Lack of Activity :

If the blood cannot flow fast enough it would start accumulating in the legs leading to water retention and swelling of legs. Physical inactivity will leave the capillaries of the legs with high rate of fluid causing high pressure. The same increase in pressure will also create problems for the fluids to return into the capillaries again. Varicose veins are formed when the capillaries break oozing out blood into the skin when the veins develop inflammation and grow into abnormal position. For effective fluid exchange in the body, physical activity is absolutely necessary.

Proteins :

Severe deficiency of proteins can collapse the normal water balance. Lack of protein can make it difficult for the body to force back the retained water in the tissue space into the capillaries. This can cause swelling of stomach which is quite common in malnourished people.

Medications :

Certain drugs can lead to water retention. Oral contraceptive pills, NSAID drugs like pain removing medications and beta blockers can cause bloating and fluid retention. Lastly for most of the women water retention takes place during premenstrual stage leading to bloating.

Water Retention Treatment :

Water retention cannot be treated easily since fluid accumulation takes place as a process inside the body. Not all the people who develop swelling of ankles and feet and hands would have heart or kidney diseases. It can be due to simple fluid retention. Regular exercises and physiotherapy can help in reducing the water retention. Mild form of water retention can be resolved by making certain changes in lifestyle.

For people whose job involves standing for long hours, water retention can develop easily. They can wear support stockings to reduce swelling of legs and ankles. Obese people are more prone to develop water retention than others. Hence they can take steps to reduce weight. Reduce the sodium (salt) intake daily. Avoid eating processed food stuffs with large quantities of salt and spice. Instead you can include potassium rich foods like bananas in your diet.

Taking diuretic medications for long can cause edema. Diuretics are prescribed for controlling blood pressure but for some people it would alter the water balance in the body increasing their weight. Diuretics can worsen the situation of the kidney function leading to dehydration of blood. Hence consult your doctor if you are taking diuretics for any medical condition. Protein supplement can be given for preventing leakage in capillaries thereby reducing water retention in the tissue spaces.

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