Is It Water Retention or Any Underlying Condition?

Water retention or edema can occur due to lifestyle modifications or it could be a sign of something more. Know what edema is, its causes and treatment.

By URLife Team
26 Jun 2024

Have you ever noticed a sudden drop or spike in your weight, without any dietary or lifestyle modifications? It could be nothing but water retention. Known as edema, it is swelling in parts of the body. It usually occurs when the body is unable to maintain fluid levels. This can lead to a noticeable increase in weight, puffiness, and bloating, especially in the extremities such as the hands, feet, and ankles. 

Imagine your body is like a sponge. A sponge can hold a certain amount of water, but if you keep adding more water, it will eventually become saturated and start leaking. Similarly, your body is made up of cells and tissues that can hold a certain amount of fluid. When the balance is disrupted, and the body retains too much fluid, it starts to accumulate in the tissues, leading to swelling. You might have seen this yourself, especially after eating something extremely salty, like a large bag of salty chips. The next day, you might notice that your ring suddenly feels too tight, and your face looks puffy. This occurs because excess sodium in the body causes it to retain more water to balance the salt concentration, leading to temporary water retention and swelling. 

Edema is usually not serious and can often be managed with simple lifestyle modifications. However, if the swelling persists, it is crucial to consult a doctor to determine the underlying cause.

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7 Causes of Water Retention



Malnutrition can lead to water retention, although it might seem counterintuitive at first. Albumin is a protein that helps the human body manage fluids. When a person has a severe protein deficiency, it may be harder for the body to move interstitial fluid back into the capillaries. Malnutrition can also disrupt electrolyte balance, particularly sodium and potassium levels. Electrolytes play a crucial role in regulating fluid distribution in the body. Imbalances, such as low levels of protein or potassium, can contribute to fluid retention. So, it is not always a disease but certain deficiencies complicating bodily functioning. 

Lack of Physical Activity

According to a 2021 study published by PLOS One, chronic peripheral edema is more commonly found in people with a lack of physical activity. The study also mentions that individuals with peripheral edema have more pain, comorbidities, and mobility limitations. 

Physical activity promotes healthy blood circulation. When you are inactive, blood flow can become sluggish, particularly in the lower extremities. This can cause fluid to pool in the tissues of the legs, ankles, and feet, leading to swelling and edema. When it comes to muscle functioning, Movement and exercise help muscles contract, which assists in pumping blood and lymphatic fluid back toward the heart. Without regular muscle contractions, this pumping action is reduced, and fluids can accumulate in the tissues.


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Excess body weight, particularly in the abdominal area, can increase pressure on the veins in the lower body. This pressure can impair the return of blood to the heart, leading to fluid buildup in the legs and feet. Also, many people don’t know that obesity is also associated with chronic low-grade inflammation. Inflammation can cause the release of substances that make blood vessels more permeable. This increased permeability can lead to fluid leaking into surrounding tissues, causing swelling. Lack of movement can impair circulation and lymphatic drainage, leading to fluid buildup in the extremities.


Related story: How to Combat Obesity With Consistency?



A 2019 research by the International Journal of Molecular Sciences confirms that different types of allergies can also lead to water retention. 

Allergic reactions typically involve the immune system's response to allergens such as pollen, pet dander, foods, or medications. However, in some cases, allergic reactions can cause mild to moderate edema (swelling) due to histamine release. Some medications used to treat allergic reactions, such as antihistamines, can occasionally cause fluid retention as a side effect. This is more common with older variations of antihistamines that can cross the blood-brain barrier and affect fluid balance.


Related story: Is Histamine Intolerance And Allergy The Same?


Hormonal Conditions

Hormonal conditions can indeed cause water retention through various mechanisms involving hormonal imbalances that affect fluid regulation in the body. One common hormonal condition associated with water retention is hypothyroidism, where the thyroid gland produces insufficient thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormones play a crucial role in regulating metabolism, including fluid balance. When thyroid hormone levels are low, it can lead to a decrease in the efficiency of heart function and kidney filtration, resulting in fluid accumulation and edema, particularly in the face, hands, and feet.


Certain Medications

Certain medications can lead to water retention, medically known as edema, as a notable side effect. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are commonly associated with fluid retention and swelling, particularly when used for extended periods. Corticosteroids prescribed for various inflammatory conditions, also frequently cause fluid retention, especially with prolonged use. Additionally, medications like calcium channel blockers used to manage hypertension and heart conditions may contribute to peripheral edema. 



During pregnancy, more often than not, the body produces higher levels of certain hormones, such as progesterone. These hormones cause the blood vessels to relax and widen, which can lead to fluid leakage into the surrounding tissues. Also, to support the growing foetus, the body increases its blood volume by about 50 per cent. This increase can put additional pressure on the blood vessels, causing fluid to leak into the surrounding tissues and resulting in swelling. Additionally, as the uterus expands to accommodate the developing baby, it can put pressure on the veins in the pelvis and legs. This pressure can impede the return of blood to the heart, leading to fluid accumulation in the lower extremities.


5 Ways To Reduce and Manage Water Retention

Reduce Salt Intake

Sodium causes the body to hold onto water to balance the concentration of sodium in the bloodstream. This leads to an increase in the volume of blood and fluids, which can accumulate in the tissues, causing swelling and puffiness. By cutting down on salt, you help your kidneys to work more efficiently in excreting excess water, thereby reducing fluid buildup and alleviating symptoms of water retention.

To effectively reduce salt intake, focus on consuming fresh, whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains, which naturally contain lower amounts of sodium. Avoid processed and pre-packaged foods, which are often high in hidden salts. Additionally, when cooking at home, use herbs, spices, and other flavour enhancers like lemon juice or vinegar to season your meals instead of relying on salt


Related story: Is Salt Really Bad For You?


Increase Magnesium Intake

As surprising as it sounds, magnesium is a key mineral involved in more than 300 enzymatic reactions that keep your body functioning properly.  A 2012 study published by the Journal of Caring Sciences found that taking 250 milligrams of magnesium per day improved several symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), including water retention and bloating. 

Some healthy ways to incorporate more magnesium in your diet is by including nuts, whole grains, and leafy green vegetables. If you are unable to do so, consider incorporating magnesium supplements.


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Take Vitamin B Supplements

In cases of mild fluid retention, certain vitamins and minerals can be particularly beneficial. Vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine, is thought to help alleviate mild water retention. Good dietary sources of vitamin B6 include brown rice, red meat, bananas, and chickpeas. Incorporating these foods into your diet can aid in reducing fluid buildup in the body. Additionally, vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), calcium, and vitamin D play crucial roles in helping the body excrete excess fluids. Fresh fruits, leafy greens, and low-fat dairy products are excellent sources of these nutrients and should be included in your daily diet to help manage fluid retention effectively.

For fluid retention associated with the menstrual cycle, specific supplements may offer relief. Calcium and magnesium are known to help reduce bloating and fluid retention linked to hormonal fluctuations. Manganese, evening primrose oil, and chaste tree (vitex agnus-castus) have also been reported to support fluid balance and alleviate premenstrual symptoms. These supplements can be taken under the guidance of a healthcare provider to ensure proper dosage.


Cut Back on Dehydrating Drinks

Drinks like tea, coffee, and alcohol can have diuretic effects on the body, meaning they increase urine production and promote fluid loss. While moderate consumption of these beverages is generally fine for most people, excessive intake or prolonged consumption can lead to dehydration. Dehydration disrupts the body's fluid balance mechanisms, causing it to retain water in an attempt to maintain adequate hydration levels. This retention can manifest as water retention or edema, particularly if other factors like high sodium intake or medical conditions are present. 

To cut back on dehydrating drinks like tea, coffee, and alcohol, consider healthier alternatives that support hydration and overall well-being. Swap caffeinated teas and coffee for caffeine-free herbal teas such as chamomile or peppermint. Opt for infused water by adding fruits like berries or citrus slices to plain water. If you enjoy the taste of coffee, choose decaffeinated versions to reduce caffeine intake while still savouring the coffee flavour. Incorporate fresh fruit and vegetable juices into your routine for hydration along with essential nutrients, and consider coconut water for its natural electrolytes. 


Keep Your Feet Elevated

Elevating your feet above heart level helps reduce fluid buildup in the legs and ankles by aiding in the return of blood and lymphatic fluid to the heart. Compression socks or leggings provide gentle pressure to support veins and improve blood flow, which can reduce swelling and discomfort. These practices are especially beneficial after long periods of standing or sitting.

 By compressing the surface veins, these garments prevent blood from pooling in the legs and encourage its return to the heart and lungs for oxygenation. This compression action reduces swelling and discomfort, making compression socks or leggings a valuable tool in managing conditions like chronic venous insufficiency. These measures promote better circulation, helping to manage conditions like edema and supporting overall vascular health.

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Regular health checks are essential for everyone, but they are particularly important for individuals who are at risk of or already have any underlying condition. Taking regular health checks can help detect the condition name at an early stage when it is easier to manage and treat. With the UR.Life HRA, we help you to invest in your well-being through seamless interventions and targeted medical treatments. Our holistic wellness approach caters to all aspects of your well-being. We ensure that you can bring your whole self to work.
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