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Water retention, or edema, has numerous causes. Sometimes these are mild illnesses or conditions, but at other times, water retention can suggest severe illnesses. This condition may be expressed as puffy ankles, feet, wrists and arms, or manifests as ascites, which is the gross accumulation of fluids in the abdomen. Since fluid retention may be symptomatic of serious illness, consulting a doctor to find the cause is important.
One of the most common causes of fluid build-up can be most easily addressed. Too much salt in the diet, even just occasionally, may cause brief episodes of fluid retention. This can be addressed by lowering sodium content in your diet. You shouldn’t completely reduce sodium, but keeping sodium intake at small amounts by avoiding processed foods is often very helpful. Salt is a natural way to help the body retain water, which it can store and later use; so it’s an important element in diets, but should not be overused.
Being cautious when in the sun also reduces another common cause, sunburn. Severe sunburn may lead to fluid build-up and blistering. It makes good sense to protect the skin from sunburn in any case, since sun damage to the skin is linked to higher skin cancer rates. Burns of any kind, whether from the sun or other sources lead to this condition because the body secretes toxins at a high rate. This overloads the kidneys causing the body to store water in other areas of the body. Second and third degree burns, especially, may create minor water retention, and when these burns are extensive, they can create severe edema.
Poor nutrition or inability to absorb nutrients may cause this condition. Too little albumen in the blood, one of the major proteins in blood plasma is another causal factor. Usually reduced albumen suggests insufficient intake of protein, or may indicate kidney disease. Both of these can lead to poorly working kidneys and a higher rate of water retention.
Any disease of the kidneys, liver or heart is partly expressed by fluid build-up. Certain medications may cause the condition too. These include: steroids, some blood pressure medications, estrogen, anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen, and medications for diabetes called thiazolidinediones.
Another common cause is pregnancy, especially during the third trimester. High levels of hormones right before a woman's period can result in slight swelling, and many women battle water retention during pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS). Though medications like ibuprofen may help reduce cramping, they may also make fluid build-up worse.
When the cause of fluid build-up is benign, doing some things -- under a doctor’s advice -- can help reduce the condition. A person can reduce the dietary intake of salt or sodium and should try to get regular exercise and remain active. Elevating the limbs above the level of the heart may also reduce some of the swelling caused by fluid retention. When you do take a rest, keep your feet elevated, or make sure your hands are above your heart by placing a few pillows around you. Consultation with your doctor can lead you to other methods for reducing fluid build-up and treating any underlying causes.