Fluid retention also called oedema is a build-up of fluid in the body which causes the affected tissue to become swollen.

The human body consists of approximately 60% water. It’s in your blood, muscles, organs, and even your bones. Water is vital for your body, but sometimes your body holds on to too much of it. This is water retention, and it causes puffiness and swelling. It can be triggered by many different things.

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What causes oedema (water retention)?

Water retention is often temporary and is easily treated, however, it can sometimes be an indication of a serious medical condition. It can occur in many different areas of the body and for different reasons. Water retention can occur due to changes in this regulatory system, or a range of other triggers.

When the system of hormones and other substances called prostaglandins are used by the human body to regulate water levels. This means that excess water can be excreted quickly from the kidneys in the form of urine. Fluid retention is often caused by the increase of blood pressure on the veins which adds to the pressure on the capillaries. The irregular changes in the blood vessels are often associated with eating habits.

As already mentioned fluid retention can occur as a result of many different underlying reasons, we will list some of the following conditions or treatments that can cause this condition:

  • pregnancy
  • kidney disease
  • heart failure
  • chronic lung disease
  • thyroid disease
  • liver disease
  • malnutrition
  • medication, such as corticosteroids or medicine for high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • the contraceptive pill
  • Immobility and standing for long periods are the 2 most common causes of oedema in the legs.
  • other possible causes include:
  • a blood clot
  • severe varicose veins
  • a leg injury or leg surgery
  • burns to the skin

Symptoms of fluid retention

There are two types of fluid retention. The first one is a generalised condition that is characterized by swellings all over the body. The second type is the localised, that affects particular body parts. This condition is most common in the legs and feet, and can also affect the face, hand and arm areas.

It is typically first noticed because of the swelling of extremities. One indication of water retention is difficulty to lose weight despite diet efforts. Physical signs of water retention include swollen ankles and unexplained weight gain over a short period of time.

Certain types can result in moderate discomfort in the area where excess fluid accumulation occurs. Carpal tunnel syndrome, morning stiffness and headaches. Water retention can also be mistaken for premenstrual syndrome or make existing premenstrual syndrome worse.

Here we have listed some of the most common symptoms, these include:

  • stiff joints
  • discoloured skin
  • areas of skin that stay indented when pushed in with a finger, known as pitting oedema
  • aches and tenderness in the limbs
  • weight gain
  • puffiness of the abdomen, face, and hips
  • headaches

If you experience some of the symptoms above or have a suspicion that you might have this condition, please contact your GP for further guiding and treatment.

How can you treat water retention?

There are several ways to treat this condition, but the treatment depends on the cause. Sometimes it’s best to just follow a healthy diet and limit foods high in sodium. Keep a diary of what you’re doing and eating. This can help you pinpoint the causes. If it doesn’t go away by itself, you should see your GP, to try and find out if there’s an underlying cause that needs to be treated.

Depending on the cause, treatment may include:

  • a low-salt diet
  • diuretics (water pills)
  • treatment for the underlying medical condition: for example, hormone replacement (thyroxine) in the case of hypothyroidism
  • lifestyle changes in response to the underlying medical condition: for example, avoidance of alcohol if liver disease is the cause
  • changes to medication or dosage, if drugs are the cause
  • dietary adjustments, if malnutrition is the cause
  • ongoing medical supervision
  • aids such as support stockings.
  • weight loss (if you’re overweight)

A well-known medicine called Bendroflumethiazide is often used in treatments to clear fluid from the body in conditions where your body retains too much fluid. This medicine belongs to a group of medicines called thiazide diuretics. A diuretic is a medicine which increases the amount of urine that you pass out from your kidneys. They are sometimes referred to as ‘water tablets’.

Before starting to self-diagnose you should see your doctor before starting any type of treatment, when there might be an underlying cause of this condition, that might cause serious health issues if not treated.