How to Recognize and Reduce Water Retention (Edema)?

Our body consists of approximately 60 per cent water, but when our body fails to eliminate excess water, it results in water retention. This health condition is also known as edema or fluid retention where a person experiences swelling in parts of the body like legs, ankles, feet, hands or face. When excess fluids build up in the body and you experience retention for more than a week, you must consult your physician to determine the cause of water retention.

Signs of Water Retention

Retaining excess water in your body can cause some noticeable symptoms. Other than feeling heavier than usual or less active, there are more symptoms of water retention.

You may experience −

  • Bloating, particularly in the abdominal area

  • Stiff joints

  • Change in body weight

  • Swollen legs, feet and ankles

  • An enlarged face, hips and abdomen

Occasional swelling may not be a cause of concern, but if the swelling stays for a long time one must consult the doctor immediately to know the cause of water retention and to treat the underlying problem if any.

Tests like urinalysis, chest X-ray, blood work, liver function, kidney function and heart function are usually conducted to understand the severity or the cause of water retention. Your doctor may ask you to do one of these tests to verify the cause of water retention and to decide on the right treatment.

Causes of Water Retention (Edema)

Water retention may occur within body tissues which may result in swelling in the body parts. There may be several causes of this health condition.

  • Lack of physical activity − People who are physically inactive in general or due to any medical condition may be affected by fluid retention, particularly in the lower legs. Also, if you are sitting through a long flight, standing for a long time or during your workday, your hydration level is not balanced and your body may tend to retain water.

  • Hormonal changes − Fluid retention may occur during pregnancy or even before a menstrual period when the body experiences changes in levels of certain hormones like progesterone.

  • Heart failure − In a medical condition like congestive heart failure, the heart cannot pump enough blood through the body and this may cause fluid buildup in the lungs, arms or legs.

  • Kidney disorder − Kidneys are responsible for maintaining fluid levels in our bodies. Thus, people suffering from chronic kidney disease may experience water retention.

  • Damage to the capillaries − If there is any damage to the small blood vessels (capillaries), excess fluid may enter the spaces between the cells and cause water retention.

  • Issues with the lymphatic system − The lymphatic system in our body plays an important role in maintaining immune health and fluid balance. If the body experiences any injury or infection, it may cause lymphatic system issues which may lead to fluid buildup and swelling in body parts. Sometimes, certain types of cancer and cancer treatment may also cause issues in the lymphatic system resulting in water retention.

  • Protein deficiency − Kwashiorkor is a medical condition which may occur due to excessive protein deficiency. This condition may trigger fluid retention and an enlarged stomach.

  • Obesity − It may cause water retention in the core, arms or legs.

  • Allergies − If our body detects an allergen, it may release a compound termed histamine. This may cause fluid to leak from capillaries into the nearby tissues and result in short-term swelling and inflammation.

  • Prescribed medicines − Certain oral contraceptives, calcium-channel blockers, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids, over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, blood pressure medicines or medications used to cure diabetes and Parkinson’s disease may cause fluid retention.

  • High sodium intake − If you consume too much sodium through table salt, processed foods or soft drinks, it may result in fluid buildup in your body.

  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) − This is an emergency medical condition which causes a clot in a vein and results in leg swelling.

  • Liver cirrhosis − In cirrhosis, there is increased pressure in the liver and the production of proteins is reduced. This may lead to water retention.

Once you understand the cause of water retention in your body, you can easily reduce edema with a few easy steps. This may be possible only if the swelling is mild and you don't have any other underlying medical condition.

Remedies for Water Retention

Adopting certain lifestyle changes may help minimize water retention. Here are some easy lifestyle changes to consider −

Low Salt Diet

Limit your sodium intake to maximum 2,300mg per day. Avoid canned vegetables and frozen foods to minimize your sodium intake. Instead, you can try adding spices to flavour vegetables and lean proteins.

Consume Potassium and Magnesium-rich foods

Foods like tomatoes, bananas, avocados and sweet potatoes are good sources of potassium and magnesium and they balance out your sodium levels. Moreover, dark chocolate, whole grains, nuts and leafy vegetables like spinach are a source of magnesium which may help in water retention.

Dandelion Root

This plant may help in flushing out unwanted fluid from the body. It has been used as a natural diuretic to increase urine production and reduce water retention. Speak to your doctor before considering this herbal remedy.

Include Vitamin B6

This is a water-soluble vitamin which regulates fluid balance and may reduce excess fluid retention. Bananas, potatoes, walnuts, tuna and chickpeas are rich sources of vitamin B6.

Be Physically Active

Regular exercise helps our circulatory system and guides fluid to the lymphatic and digestive systems. Physical activity also makes the fluid reach the urinary tract to be excreted and reduces fluid retention.

Compression Garment

Compression socks, stockings or sleeves improve blood flow to arms and legs. They may feel a little uncomfortable at first as they are made to fit tight but their main purpose is to squeeze your legs and prevent fluid from accumulating. This prevents blood clots as well as the fluid buildup.

Elevate Your Feet

You can rest your feet occasionally above your heart to help fluid move out of your ankles and feet. A gentle massage can also be helpful when feet are elevated

If the lifestyle changes do not help to reduce water retention, you have to consult your physician. A doctor may prescribe a diuretic medicine to make you urinate more to reduce water retention. Do not take OTC diuretics without the doctor's permission as they may have harsh side effects on the kidneys.


Water retention may be a common complaint but you need prompt medical attention when swelling doesn't resolve over a while even after trying the remedies. Many factors like hormonal changes, physical inactivity and heart or kidney problems may cause fluid buildup in the body. For proper medical treatment, it is important to know the exact cause of edema. It's advised to follow a balanced diet and adopt certain lifestyle changes to prevent water retention.

Updated on: 23-Jan-2023


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