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What is Water Retention?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Water retention is a condition in which the body retains water, causing swelling and tenderness, especially on the extremities and around the abdomen. You may also hear this referred to as bloating or edema, and it has a variety of causes, from the mundane to the serious. As a general rule of thumb, you should seek medical attention if retention persists for over a week or if you are extremely uncomfortable, and pregnant women should seek prompt attention if they experience excessive swelling in the legs and ankles.

There are a number of reasons why the body might start retaining water. Many women are familiar with this condition when it is associated with the menstrual cycle; this is caused by the release of hormones that cause the kidneys to retain water, rather than flushing it out. Water retention can also be caused by medical problems with organs like the kidneys, heart, or liver, and it has been linked with thyroid problems as well. Finally, the body will retain water if people eat a diet which is too high in salt.

Depending on the cause of the water retention, there are a number of potential treatments. At home, people should reduce their salt intake if they experience bloating, and they should eat bananas or other foods that are high in potassium. Diuretics like cranberry juice can help the body flush out its accumulation of water, and sometimes just drinking water will help, especially if the retention is caused by consuming too much salt.

Water retention can be uncomfortable, especially in the legs. It is important to elevate limbs suffering from edema, and to promote healthy circulation. Tight clothing and jewelry should be avoided during periods of bloating, and sometimes icing the area can help to bring down the swelling and discomfort. Some people find that exercise also helps, as it stimulates blood flow, encouraging the body to flush out the water being retained in the extremities.

Because water retention can sometimes be caused by a medical problem, there may be cases in which medical treatment is required to deal with the root cause of the condition. If you are being treated for a medical condition that is linked with edema or bloating, your healthcare provider should talk with you about when to come in for a visit, and when you receive a new prescription for any condition, it can be a good idea to ask if the medication causes water retention. By being aware of potential causes for this condition in your body, you can be more sensitive to situations in which going to see a medical professional might be a good idea.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon58510 — On Jan 02, 2010

water retention is big problem and i am sure cupping and honey therapy is one of the best remedies.

By anon28730 — On Mar 21, 2009

every now and then I retain water only on the right leg and just before it goes away I get this itchy water bubble rash. the rash is kind of starting again, but now I am taking water pills with potassium and still nothing. it is getting so painful. what do you think is going on?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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