What is water retention?
Water retention or edema refers to the abnormal collection of water within the tissues of the body. Also known as fluid retention, water retention is commonly noted as puffiness in the feet, ankles and legs. Water retention is generally observed more often in pregnant women and older adults. However, it can be noted at any age and both in men and women.
How is water retention caused?
Water retention may be caused due to a wide range of factors ranging from gravity to heart failure. The causes of water retention can be broadly categorized into general causes and pathological causes.
These factors result in increased accumulation of water and other fluids in the spaces between the cells and tissues by altering the mechanism that normally clears excess fluids in these spaces.
A variety of general factors can result in water retention wherein the water retention resolves quite sooner when the causative factor is removed or taken care of. It also results in immediate relief in many cases. The general causes of water retention include: gravity, burns, pregnancy, consumption of medications, dietary factors, and menstrual cycle.
Water tends to collect in the lower portions of the leg, especially the feet when you stand or sit for prolonged periods. This is due to the action of gravity which tends to pull the water and other fluids down and prevents its normal circulation.
Pregnancy is generally associated with a wide variety of changes in the body along with alteration in the hormone levels. These changes may cause the retention of fluids in the legs, especially the feet and the ankles. Similar hormonal changes noted during the menstrual periods may also cause water retention a few days before and after the menstrual periods.
Dietary factors such as increased consumption of salt lead to water retention. It has also been noted that water retention is common in individuals who commonly consume a diet low in proteins or vitamins.
Prolonged consumption of certain medications that belong to the group of anti-hypertensives, corticosteroids and some pain relieving agents has been associated with water retention. These medications may alter the normal functioning of the blood vessels to cause water retention.
Burns leave the skin and tissues dry. As the wound heals, it tends to collect more amount and fluids and water resulting in puffiness of the area around the wound.
Pathological causes refer to medical conditions that result in various abnormalities in the body. Certain disorders or conditions such as heart failure, kidney failure, lung diseases, liver failure, thyroid disorders and allergic reactions have been associated with water retention in the arms and legs. Fluid or water retention in some rare instances may denote the presence of some severe underlying disorder that needs immediate attention.
What are the symptoms of water retention?
The most common symptom of water retention is the feeling of puffiness in the affected areas. The feet, ankles and the legs are more commonly affected while it may also be noted to affect the face and the hands. The skin over the affected areas may appear stretched and shiny. In some cases, gently pressing the swollen area for about 10 seconds with a finger leaves a dimple on the skin once the finger is removed. A rapid increase in the weight may be noted in some individuals. The joints may feel swollen, stiff and painful to move if they are involved. A dull pain may be noted in certain instances.
The diagnosis of water retention is based on the signs and symptoms observed and certain specific laboratory investigations. Based on the history of the condition and the presence of general factors the doctor may conclude that the water retention is a normal response. Further specific tests may be advised if any underlying medical condition is suspected.
How is water retention treated?
Water retention in the absence of any underlying disease can be treated easily with certain home remedies. Some of the simple steps that relive water retention include the following.
Keeping a pillow below the legs while resting or lying down improves the return of blood from these areas. Avoid standing or sitting in the same position for prolonged periods of time. Shifting the position of the legs or taking a few steps in between prevents water from getting collected in the feet. Certain types of stockings that fit snugly to the feet and improves blood circulation in the feet may also be used.
Restricting the intake of salt is often beneficial. Increased consumption of fruits and vegetables supplies the body with all the essential nutrients that improves blood circulation and prevents water retention.
Regular exercise keeps the muscles and blood vessels fit enough to function normally. Better circulation ensures faster clearing of water and other fluids from the tissue spaces.
Cranberry juice, bananas and cabbage are some of the fruits and vegetables that may aid in better water clearance or prevent water retention in the cells and tissues.
Consumption of mineral and vitamin supplements may relieve water retention in some individuals. Herbal supplements such as evening primrose oil and chaste tree can prevent water retention commonly noted with menstrual periods. Other herbal supplements such as dandelion leaf, corn silk, and horsetail result in increased excretion of fluids and water from the body and may be beneficial in individuals suffering from water retention.
A thorough analysis may have to be performed if any underlying disorder is thought to be the cause of water retention. Appropriate treatment is initiated if any underlying disorder is identified to be the cause of water retention. Along with specific medications for the underlying medical disorder, certain medications known as diuretics (commonly referred to as water pills) may be advised to clear water retention. These pills may also be advised for general causes when home remedies fail to clear water retention.