Everything You Need to Know About Water Retention

Medically reviewed by University of Illinois-Chicago, College of Medicine on March 17, 2017Written by Jennifer Purdie

What is water retention?

Plane flights, hormone changes, and too much salt can all cause your body to retain excess water. Your body is made up mainly of water. When your hydration level is not balanced, your body tends to hang on to that water. Usually, water retention may cause you to feel heavier than normal, and less nimble or active. It can also cause:

  • bloating
  • puffiness
  • swelling

Water retention is a common health issue, and can occur on a daily basis. A number of factors can cause it including:

  • diet
  • menstrual cycle
  • genetics

You can help relieve water retention by making lifestyle changes.

Symptoms of water retention

Symptoms of water retention can include:

  • bloating, especially in the abdominal area
  • swollen legs, feet, and ankles
  • puffiness of the abdomen, face, and hips
  • stiff joints
  • weight fluctuations
  • indentations in the skin, similar to what you see on your fingers when you’ve been in the bath or shower a long time

What causes water retention?

A number of factors can cause water retention, including:

  • flying in an airplane: Changes in cabin pressure and sitting for an extended period of time may cause your body to hold on to water.
  • standing or sitting too long: Gravity keeps blood in your lower extremities. It’s important to get up and move around often to keep blood circulating. If you have a sedentary job, schedule time to get up and walk around.
  • menstrual changes and fluctuating hormones
  • eating too much sodium: You may get too much sodium by using a lot of table salt or ingesting processed foods and soft drinks.
  • medications: Some medications have water retention as a side effect. These include:
    • chemotherapy treatments
    • over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers
    • blood pressure medications
    • antidepressants
  • weak heart: A weak heart that can’t pump blood well can cause the body to retain water.
  • deep vein thrombosis (DVT): Leg swelling can be caused by DVT, which is a clot in a vein.
  • pregnancy: The shift in weight during pregnancy can cause the legs to retain water if you don’t move around regularly.

Can persistent water retention cause complications?

Consistent water retention might be a symptom of a serious condition such as:

  • deep vein thrombosis
  • pulmonary edema, or fluid buildup inside your lungs
  • fibroids in women

If your body doesn’t return naturally to its balanced state, you should seek medical help. Your doctor can determine if you need any of the following to relieve your water retention:

Seven remedies for water retention

Remedies for water retention include:

1. Follow a low-salt diet

Try to limit your intake of sodium to no more than 2,300 milligrams per day. This means shopping the perimeter of the grocery store and not eating processed, packaged foods. Try adding spices instead of salt to flavor vegetables and lean proteins.

2. Add in potassium- and magnesium-rich foods

They will help balance out your sodium levels. Options include:

  • bananas
  • avocados
  • tomatoes
  • sweet potatoes
  • leafy vegetables, such as spinach

3. Take a vitamin B-6 supplement

According to a study published in the Journal of Caring Sciences, vitamin B-6 significantly helped with premenstrual symptoms like water retention.

4. Eat your protein

Protein attracts water and keeps your body balanced. A special protein called albumin keeps fluid in the bloodstream and prevents it from leaking out and causing swelling.

5. Keep your feet elevated

Elevating your feet can help move the water upward and away from your lower extremities.

6. Wear compression socks or leggings

Compression socks are becoming more popular and easier to find. They are available at athletic clothing stores and many online sites. Compression socks are made to fit tight. They may even feel a little uncomfortable at first. The purpose of compression apparel is to squeeze your legs and prevent fluid from accumulating.

7. Seek your doctor’s help if your problem persists

Your doctor may prescribe a diuretic medication to make you urinate more.

Outlook

You can live a healthy life if you naturally retain water. It’s a common health issue. Its side effects are usually little more than feeling like you’ve gained some weight and your clothes fit tighter than usual. If you feel concerned about your symptoms, consult your doctor.

Prevention

It’s best to follow a healthy diet and limit foods high in sodium. Keep a diary of what you’re doing and eating when you feel like you’re retaining extra water. This will help you pinpoint the causes. Then you can make appropriate lifestyle changes to help prevent water retention.

Takeaway

Water retention is a common health issue that can be caused by a number of factors, including diet, menstrual cycles, and genetics. You can help relieve water retention by making some lifestyle changes. If your water retention persists, consult your doctor who may prescribe medications.

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