Water retention

What is water retention?

Water retention is the accumulation of fluid in the body, which can be observed especially on the legs, arms, face and abdomen.


How is water retention treated? Pathophysiology

Generalized water retention

Generalized edema (swelling) affects the intercellular spaces (between cells) of the whole body.

The cause is poor functioning of the organs that regulate hydrogen exchange:

  1. Nephritic
  2. Liver.

Also, a heart problem can change pressure and cause generalized edema.

Water retention due to cardiac cause

Heart failure reduces ejection and causes a decrease in volume (level of total blood volume) in the periphery, in particular, less oxygen reaches the kidneys.

The consequence is the activation of the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone mechanism, which leads to the retention of:

  1. Na+ (sodium),

The decrease in volume also causes an increase in vasopressin secretion, which also leads to greater water retention at the level of the collecting tubes of the kidneys.

All these mechanisms lead to an increase in volume and this promotes water retention as it increases the hydrostatic pressure.

In addition, right heart failure causes an increase in venous pressure. Reduced venous flow leads to congestion at the capillary level.

Water retention due to renal cause

Renal insufficiency can occur as:

  1. nephritic syndrome,
  2. Nephrotic syndrome.

Nephritic syndrome: It is characterized by a change in glomerular filtration, the renal corpuscle does not filter sufficiently. The result is reduced urine output, which leads to an increase in:

  1. Volume
  2. Arterial pressure.

This increase in volume is responsible for:

  1. increase of hydrostatic pressure,
  2. Formation of generalized edema.

Nephrotic syndrome

Damage to the renal corpuscle leads to a change in protein permeability.

The result is the passage of proteins into the ultrafiltrate (liquid with characteristic features between blood and urine), which causes proteinuria (protein in the urine).

This results in a reduction in oncotic pressure (pressure caused by proteins in the blood) below 28 mmHg, which is required to retain the fluids inside the capillaries.

The consequences are:

  • movement of fluids in the interstitial space,
  • reduction of blood volume,
  • Decrease in the glomerular filtration rate, which causes an increase in aldosterone secretion.

Aldosterone retains Na+ and water, which increases the amount of fluid in the body.

Water retention and the drop in oncotic pressure cause the appearance of visible edema.

Localized water retention

It is an edema in a limited area and with local causes, for example:

  1. From the venous obstacle in case of venous thrombosis or vein narrowing on the lower extremities, the swollen part is drained through the affected vein. The swelling occurs only on one ankle, not both.
  2. Lymphedema is related to something that affects the lymphatic system, for example, a tumor that originates from a lymph node. The cause may also be surgical removal of lymphatic vessels.
  3. Armedema – in breast cancer, the surgeon can remove several lymphatic vessels. In some cases, the patient develops postoperative edema in the area of the arm, which can be very painful.

Causes of water retention

Water retention can have many causes, some are physiological and benign, in other cases there is an underlying disease.

Sitting for hours (especially on long flights) is a common cause of swollen ankles.

The blood in the veins of the lower extremities needs support to flow back to the heart.

The contraction of the calf muscles while running acts like a pump and causes the blood to rise.

Some people who sit all day long have ankle swelling.

The reason is that the muscles are inactive and unable to pump the fluid to the heart.


Standing for a long time causes a similar situation.

Due to gravity, the body fluid accumulates in the lower sections of the legs, causing swelling of the ankles (fluid retention).

If the fluid is not pumped to the heart, it collects in the legs and causes swelling.

Lack of physical exercise is a cause of water retention.

If you exercise, it helps the veins in the legs to work against gravity and to transport the blood to the heart.

If the venous valves in the legs are weakened, there is insufficient return flow of blood to the heart, which leads to water retention.

This pathology is called chronic venous insufficiency.

An injury to the ankle or shin can cause local swelling. After the injury, an infection around or in the area of the ankle joint is more common.

Women may suffer from these conditions due to pregnancy or premenstrual syndrome.

Hormonal changes lead to massive fluid accumulation in the body.

High blood pressure during pregnancy can also lead to these complaints.

If a woman takes oral contraceptives, the estrogen contained in the drug causes water retention and cellulite.

Various medications cause swollen legs and water retention, for example:

  1. medicines for depression, diabetes, hypertension,
  2. corticosteroids (they promote the retention of sodium and the excretion of potassium),
  3. antiepileptic drugs such as carbamazepine,
  4. anti-inflammatory drugs from the group of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs,
  5. Contraceptive pill
  6. Abortion pill RU486 (mifepristone).

Edema and foot swelling can also be caused by some disorders, such as:

  • Kidney disease (especially in the elderly)
  • Heart trouble
  • Liver diseases (for example, cirrhosis)
  • Hypothyroidism (thyroid gland that doesn’t produce enough hormones)

When we consume foods high in sodium, water retention occurs.

According to a study by Osterberg KL et al. (Gatorade Sports Science Institute, Barrington, IL 60010, USA), carbohydrates cause water retention. In dehydrated individuals, drinks with a carbohydrate content of 3%, 6% and 12% led to an increase in body mass index after 4 hours.

The ingested carbohydrates are stored in the form of glycogen.

One gram of glycogen in the body stores 2.7 grams of water.

Glycogen is stored:

  1. In the liver,
  2. In the muscles.

Here it can be quickly converted to glucose to provide energy when the body needs it.

This association explains why a diet or carbohydrate reduction in the diet initially causes significant weight loss.

If glycogen is broken down in the muscles, a lot of water is lost.

Lack of protein in the diet is also a cause of water retention.

Proteins are essential for the regulation and balance of body fluids.

Many people don’t realize that a deficiency of vitamin B6 can lead to water retention.


Symptoms of water retention in the body

As a rule, some symptoms of water retention in the body are:

  1. Swelling of the skin, which tightens and becomes shiny. You can see this on the legs and in the 1st abdominal zone.
  2. If you press into the swollen area, you can observe a dent that persists for a few minutes.
  3. Often cellulitis appears at the back of the thighs
  4. difficulty breathing (in case of ascites)
  5. Swollen abdomen
  6. Swelling on the face, bags form under the eyes
  7. Swollen fingers and hands
  8. Athletes who engage in bodybuilding lose muscle tone due to fluid retention.

Eye edema

Fluid gain in the eye can be:

  1. corneal edema: occurs with a corneal injury,
  2. pupillary edema: is associated with an increase in intracranial pressure,

Causes of edema in the eye area

  • A severe allergic reaction to a medication or food often manifests itself in the form of facial swelling, which also affects the eyes.
  • Swollen eyes, even at a young age, are provoked by dysfunction of the lacrimal glands.
  • Internal swelling of the eyes can also be caused by skin problems such as dermatitis.
  • The skin can swell due to contact with irritants such as soap and detergent. Cosmetics also contain substances that can irritate the skin. That’s why too much makeup on the eyes can cause dermatitis.

What causes water retention in pregnancy

In the second and third trimesters, swelling of the body is observed and there are many reasons for this.

Physiological causes of water retention in pregnancy are:

  • increase in blood volume,
  • Storage of Na+ and water in the interstitial space (between the cells),
  • The uterus presses on the inferior vena cava and the inguinal veins.
  • The circulating progesterone causes vasodilation, resulting in venous congestion.
  • Other causes include lack of physical training and a sedentary lifestyle.

☛ In the second and third trimesters, the body areas are normal. However, sudden swelling of areas of the body towards the end of the second trimester should be a cause for concern.

During this period, swelling of the hands and neck may be a sign of the development of preeclampsia.

This disease causes arterial hypertension, which can become dangerous for both the mother and the child.

Preeclampsia also causes:

  1. Excessive water retention in the body,
  2. increase in body weight,
  3. protein excretion in the urine,
  4. Severe headache,
  5. Altered vision (flying mosquitoes in the visual field).

If these symptoms are observed, a doctor should be consulted immediately.

☛ During lactation, water retention is caused by the hormone prolactin, which is used to produce milk.

Water retention during the menstrual cycle

Hormone changes: Changes in hormones (especially an increase in progesterone) cause water retention in the extremities. Before the onset of menstruation, some women may suffer from swelling of their hands and legs.

Dehydration: Women drink too little water. This leads to dehydration. If the body is dehydrated, edema forms because the body preserves water.

High sodium levels: Most women often eat foods high in sodium. The high sodium content leads to water retention.


As in the period before the menstrual cycle, water retention can also occur during menopause due to a disturbed hormonal balance.

In practice, we see many women under the age of 50 who have swollen legs, knees or feet after a walk of a few hours.

Fluid retention in men

Why does the man suffer from fluid retention?

➜ When the kidneys are unable to filter the excretion products from the blood, the condition is called renal insufficiency. In this case, swelling of the legs and ankles is a common occurrence.

➜ Thyroid problems can cause this disorder.

➜ In obese men, high estrogen levels (a byproduct of body fat) can cause swollen legs and feet.

➜ In adolescents, eating too much salt can lead to water retention. The problem can be aggravated:

  1. Fast food
  2. Flavoured additives.

➜ Sugar is another triggering factor. It forces the body to provide more insulin and thus causes water retention.

➜ Proteins in the blood attract water and play an important role in maintaining water balance in the body.

If you suffer from severe protein deficiency, the blood contains insufficient protein to conduct water from the tissues into the capillaries.

This causes water accumulation in the interstitial space.

What to do in case of water retention? Therapy

Therapy focuses on the underlying cause of fluid retention.

A low-sodium diet is often the first step to stopping water retention in the legs.

You should not drink a lot of water, even though many people think that there would be less fluid in the body if you drink less.

If a person eats a lot of fruits and vegetables, he does not feel thirsty, but if a lot of grains and carbohydrates are consumed, you are very thirsty.

How much and what water should you drink?

The most important thing is to drink low-sodium water. The body is able to regulate the fluids according to its needs.

According to various theories of naturopathy, the ideal amount of drinking is between half a liter and a liter per day.

Stay physically active

Regular physical exercise over the duration of at least 30 minutes helps detoxify the body and reduce water retention.

A sedentary lifestyle can promote the development of many health problems, so you should go for frequent walks. In any case, cycling, swimming or daily light exercise will help.

If you suffer from joint diseases or other health problems, you should consult a qualified doctor to learn what exercises you can do to eliminate water retention.

In the gym, movements on the horizontal exercise bike and the leg press are most appropriate, because the ankles are held higher than in other exercises.

Natural remedies for fluid retention

  • If ankles and legs are swollen due to pregnancy, the woman should put her legs up. This helps to normalize blood flow and reduce swelling.
  • Applying hot mustard oil to the affected areas is one of the most commonly used home remedies.
    Soak two teaspoons of mustard seeds in water overnight and apply this solution to the affected area for relief.
  • Apple cider vinegar is beneficial in the treatment of water retention in the legs. To do this, apply the product along the leg to the heel or to the back of the foot, depending on the extent of the swelling.
  • Among the herbal remedies there are creams or ointments with pennywort and horse chestnut, which have an anti-edematous effect and can be applied to the swollen areas.
  • Bach flowers are also helpful for water retention, for example larch and wood apple.
  • There are very effective manual therapies. For example, manual lymphatic drainage leads to swelling of the lower extremities.
    For a faster effect, therapy can be supported by Tecar therapy and/or draining pressure therapy and massage.
    The sessions should last at least 1 hour and the therapy should be repeated 5-10 times to achieve a lasting result.
  • You should stop smoking and do not drink alcohol.
  • Beware of dietary supplements, creatinine, for example, increases water retention in the muscles.

Herbal tea to eliminate water retention


Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is an herb that has been used as a natural diuretic for a long time.

Natural diuretics can help decrease water retention as they increase urine production.

The plant contains a lot of potassium and helps reduce sodium levels in the body. Since it also contains a lot of magnesium, it is also an old home remedy for premenstrual swelling.

In a study by Clare BA et al. (Dipartimento di Erboristeria Medicina, Tai Sophia Institute, Laurel, MD 20723, USA), 17 volunteers took three doses of dandelion extract within 24 hours.

On the following days, fluid intake and urine production were controlled.

The result was a significant increase in the amount of urine produced.


  • Brew a teaspoon of the dried herb in a cup of hot water and leave to infuse for 10 minutes.
  • Strain
  • Drink this tea up to three times a day.
  • You can buy the mother tincture (extract) of dandelion (500 mg one to three times a day).

Before starting herbal tea therapy, you should talk to the doctor, because it can interfere with some medications.


Parsley has excellent diuretic properties.

Preparation of parsley tea:

  • Brew two teaspoons of dried parsley leaves in a cup with boiling water.
  • Leave to infuse for 10 minutes.
  • Drink up to three times a day.

You can also drink a mixture of fresh parsley juice and lemon juice.

Do tablets help against water retention?

The answer is yes. In this case, diuretics help to get the excessive water out of the body by increasing the urinary frequency and volume. However, this is not a complete and exclusive treatment against water retention.

The doctor may prescribe furosemide (Lasix), which is a diuretic, to reduce water retention.

Dandelion tablets are the best home remedy for water retention.

Recommended diet for water retention

A healthy intestine is a prerequisite for preventing such disorders. Therefore, you should eat healthy and balanced.

You can’t eliminate water retention with natural remedies if you don’t change your diet.

First of all, carbohydrate-rich foods should be avoided:

  1. Sweet
  2. Processed grains (such as bread) or whole grains (such as whole grain rice).

You can do a very simple test. If you eat rusks in the morning and rice or pasta and bread at lunchtime, the imprints of the socks on the ankles will persist for a while.

Fruits and vegetables are natural diuretics because they contain a lot of potassium and little sodium.

Recommended foods include:

  • Lime
  • Onion
  • Broccoli
  • Olive
  • Turnip
  • Lettuce
  • Watermelon
  • Orange
  • Lemon
  • Pineapple
  • Blueberry juice
  • Raspberry
  • Papaya
  • Strawberry

Reduce water retention caused by potassium

Sodium or table salt are the main factors for swelling in the body. Therefore, foods rich in potassium (K) are extremely beneficial for balancing the necessary amount of sodium and removing excess fluid from the body. Against flatulence you can eat:

  • Apricot
  • Avocado
  • Banana
  • Muskmelon
  • Kiwi
  • Broad beans
  • Nectarines

Other foods against water retention

In addition to fruits, vegetables and potassium-rich foods, there are some vegetables that reduce water retention, such as asparagus, which is particularly effective against bloating.

The bearberry is a plant that, thanks to its diuretic properties, significantly reduces water retention and reduces swelling.

The following are foods that help reduce water retention in the body:

  • Asparagus
  • Parsley
  • Dandelion
  • Celery
  • Chestnut
  • Fennel seeds
  • Hawthorn
  • Butcher’s broom.

Foods to avoid

Milk and dairy products increase fluid retention, so only newborns should drink breast milk.

Often a bloated belly dairy products are caused.

Cake and sugar are generally not recommended because they are not part of a healthy diet.

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