Water Retention: Why Does it Happen and Is It Dangerous?

If you wake up in the morning and suddenly find yourself having a difficult time putting your ring on your finger because it’s puffed up like a Ball Park Frank, there might be a good reason.  It might be the salty soy sauce from the Chinese meal you had the night before. Water retention (also called fluid retention) is a common condition, particularly among women. It can be triggered by a number of things, including salt, hot weather and hormonal changes. But it could also occasionally indicate something more serious.

It is normal for fluid to slowly leak from the bloodstream into the body’s tissues. This fluid is rich in nutrients and oxygen to support our cells. After the cells have taken what they need, the fluid is normally reabsorbed into the bloodstream via the capillaries. However, if there is not the right amount of pressure in the capillaries, the water does not get absorbed into the bloodstream and fluid can begin to accumulate in the tissues. If you have a job that requires you to stand for long periods of time, it is common for fluid to pool in the lower legs and ankles.

There are a number of common causes for retaining water. One cause can be a slowdown or blockage in the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is a network of small tubes that are designed to drain fluids from the tissues. An excessive amount of fluid can overwhelm the system, with fluid backing up in the tissues, much like what happens in a traffic jam.

Because salt attracts water, a salty meal can make you retain water. Shifting hormone levels can trigger it as well, which is why pregnancy, birth control pills, and the hormonal shifts that occur just prior to a woman’s period can cause excessive water retention.

Less commonly, water retention may be due to an underlying medical condition. This includes heart failure, kidney disease, liver disease and lung disease. If you find that water retention is becoming a chronic problem, you should consult with your physician to rule out more serious underlying medical causes.

Once you have pinpointed the cause of your water retention, you and your doctor can decide on an appropriate treatment. The typical Western diet contains excessive amounts of salt, particularly in processed foods. Reducing your intake of these foods can help to reduce water retention. If you spend a lot of time on your feet, try to rest periodically with your feet up, and wear support stockings. An increase of your intake of Vitamin B5 and B6 may help remove fluids from your tissues. And, surprising as this may sound, drink more water! The body tends to hold on to water if it is not well hydrated, so the more you drink, the more fluid your body will release from the tissues.

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