Causes of Water Retention

There are at least seven causes of water retention. Most cases of water retention are due to ‘idiopathic oedema (edema)’ which simply means that the water retention is not being caused by a specific disease. In most cases the cause is reversible by changing what you eat and how you exercise. Read the sections below to see what kind of water retention you have.

Weak circulation in the leg veins

This is probably one of the most common causes of water retention in legs and ankles. This occurs in pregnancy and causes swellings like those shown in the video. In older people this problem may also result in varicose veins. Also see…

Blockage or congestion of the lymphatic system

This can cause a type of water retention known as lymphoedema (lymphedema), which is common after some types of surgery, for instance. People who spend a lot of time immobile, e.g. those in hospital beds, wheelchairs, or on long-haul flights, even ‘couch potatoes’ can develop water retention because without regular movement, it is difficult for your lymphatic system to drain excess fluid out of your tissues.

Premenstrual water retention

This also common, and is caused by the hormonal changes of the menstrual cycle. Nutritional deficiencies caused by consuming too many of the wrong foods and drinks will make this problem worse.

Salt

One of the main causes of water retention is eating too much salty food. The main component of salt is sodium, which the body dilutes with water if too much of it is present. Salt makes you thirsty, and your body will hold on to this water. Reducing the amount of salt in your diet will help you to release a little water retention but not usually more than about 2 lbs in weight. Even a relatively salty diet, although it can be harmful in many ways, will not normally cause gross water retention.

Lesser-known causes of water retention

Hormones and Medicines

pills 300x199 Causes of Water RetentionHigh levels of certain hormones can also make your body hold on to water. These include insulin, which is needed to process sugar; cortisone, which is produced when you are under stress; and the female hormones oestrogen (estrogen) and progesterone. The water-retaining effect is caused by the effects which these hormones have on sodium levels in your body, and on the hormones which govern how your kidneys work. Certain prescribed medicines such as the contraceptive pill and some painkillers can be causes of water retention by affecting levels of these hormones.

Water retention which is caused by hormones can be spread around the body but often affects your tummy most of all. Women can also get water retention in the breasts, which causes breast tenderness and swelling. Also see

Wastes and Toxins

cellulite Causes of Water RetentionCellulite, which mostly affects women’s thighs, is a form of fat complexed with retained water. Sometimes it holds so much water that it is swollen and painful to the touch. Metabolic wastes and toxins such as pesticides which the body cannot easily release tend to be stored in this fat. It is thought the causes of  water retention in cellulite are either irritation and swelling due to these toxins, or results from the body’s attempt to dilute them.

Low-Calorie Diets

If you have water retention you are very likely to be overweight. But overweight people tend to go on a low-calorie diet. A low-calorie diet will unfortunately not get rid of water retention – it can actually make it worse, especially if you eat less than 1,200 Calories a day for months or years. This is because you may not have enough protein in your blood to draw excess water out of your tissues. This type of water retention can cause generalized puffiness but if severe can give you a swollen tummy.

Histamine

Histamine causes water retention leading to bloating and tummy swelling. If you have ever been stung by an insect or developed an itchy red lump after a mosquito bite, you will be familiar with the effects of histamine. Histamine widens the joins between the cells which line your smallest blood vessels, known as your capillaries. This makes them leak both water and protein into your “tissue spaces” – the area surrounding the cells of tissues such as flesh, organs and intestines. If the protein cannot be removed from your tissue spaces, it will stay there, attracting water.

tissue spaces Causes of Water Retention

The Tissue Spaces. The round objects represent cells which receive nutrients from the blood capillary and send wastes to the capillary.

Poor digestion and taking antibiotics can cause changes in your intestines which lead to a lot of histamine being produced in this area. Sometimes eating yoghurt and probiotics can help to reduce this problem, but if it has been going on for some time these measures may not be effective on their own.

Drinking less fluid will not cure water retention. One of the causes of water retention is dehydration due to not drinking enough water.

These causes of water retention often respond to dietary measures. The Waterfall Diet has been designed by British nutritionist Linda Lazarides to help release excess water weight as quickly as possible. It can also help to treat health problems associated with water retention, such as swollen legs, arthritis, high blood pressure and PMS.

Heart or kidney problems

Heart or kidney failure causes a severe and permanent swelling of the legs and ankles (oedema or edema), together with exhaustion, shortness of breath, coughing, and a severely reduced ability to urinate. These are medical conditions which require treatment from your doctor.

Do you have water retention?

How and when did it start? What do you think may have caused it? Let us know by telling your story in the comment box at the end of this page.

 Causes of Water Retention

About Linda Lazarides

Linda Lazarides is an international expert on water retention, author of eight books and founder of the British Association for Nutritional Therapy. She has successfully treated hundreds of people referred to her by doctors. See success stories or download E-guide.

Comments

  1. A few months ago, my weight went from about 115lbs to fluctuating between 123 and 133 (!) seemingly overnight. I’ve been from one doctor to another. With each diagnosis, I’m put on meds that have done nothing but make me sick. It seems I have water retention. When I recently went in for an abdominal MRI, I was told I needed a full bladder. Before the test, I downed a bottle of water, then another, then another. The wide-eyed radiologist couldn’t believe I didn’t feel like I had to “go”, and with each check, my bladder still wasn’t full enough to do the MRI. And even after all that, it was hours before I had to use the restroom. After ruling out nearly every major cause or health issue, the general consensus is that the water retention is caused by my abdominal capillaries leaking, but no one has a clue what to do about it.
    I’d been prescribed two diuretics for the water retention – dyazide in the morning, lasix in the evening – but they only seem to be making things worse, so as of yesterday, I stopped taking them. I could tell I’m dehydrated – my skin is dry and itchy, my mouth feels like it’s stuffed with cotton,and even my contact lenses are dry and uncomfortable. But I still look like I swallowed a basketball. If I lay on my side, the mass falls to the side like a water balloon. It’s plain disgusting – not to mention none of my clothes fit, and I’m always short of breath, congested, head-achy, dizzy, and lethargic.

    • Linda Lazarides says:

      Lori, this can happen if your diet is very poor and you are eating too much sugary or fatty food and not enough fresh fruit and vegetables. There are ingredients in fruit that your blood vessels need in order to stop them leaking fluid like this. Try to improve your diet, and if you need any extra help, it may help you to understand your condition by reading my book the Waterfall Diet.

      • But my diet has been full of veggies and low GI fruits. I am allergic to gluten so, was avoiding bread and was fine until because of severe constipation got Sena supplements as well as those potassium drinks that will ease constipation and over night got elephant feet and my loose skinny jeans are now very tight, I am very exhausted and tired and in the morning nobody knows me because my face is so swollen that I look like a different person!!!!!

    • Karen i understand how you feel. Since the birth of my twins 9yrs ago now i have never managed to get a flat stomach again despite diets, personal trainer, gym,water-bike, drainage lymphatique,massage,nutritionniste…i have tried everything & it really gets me down. Last night i drank 2 herbal teas supposed to help drainage plus 2 litres of evian & a camomile tea and didnt need to pee. My kids like to lean their heads on my stomach when watching Tv because it is like a water bed! If i drink enough tea & water i can put on 2-3 kilos from one day to the next. I am fit i do spinning classes 3 times a week & am very active at work i am careful what i eat & havent had a drop of alcohol for a month & havent lost any weight. I am v allergic to pollen & the pollution & i wonder il it is the anti histamines making my stomach bloat like this? I wonder if liposuccion would help? It is so unfair because i was always so slim before the kids & now am a size 40-42. Good luck to you i hope we find a solution asap.

    • michael says:

      I have exactly the same discusting symptoms and doctors and specialists have come up with wear compression stockings work just enough to keep me from gaining 20 to 30 pounds a day extra in water weight. I need to exercise more but I can only do a small amount without hurting so bad I want to pop myself like a balloon lasik and potassium were increased and seemed to get worse so I went back down to a lower dose..good luck and if you find a solution please let me knowthanks Mike

  2. I tend to swell when I travel, on the plane, and then in tropical conditions it can become very uncomfortable. I am 49 years old about 5’6″ and 148lbs and normally do not have a problem unless I sit for a very long time and then its not horrible like it was when I went on my cruise. I drank alot of water and was very active and tried to put my feet up whenever possible, but it became difficult to walk. Is there something I can take when I travel to help alleviate this problem? I am going to the dominican republic for my 50th birthday and I don’t want it to be a problem. thank you, Shari

    • Linda Lazarides says:

      Shari, there is no quick fix for this. Your blood vessels are weak if this happens so easily. It means your food is not giving your body what it needs. Try exploring more pages on this site.

  3. My cousin had a kidney transplant in November and over the last month she has started water pills 2 times a day but her legs are so swollen that she can barely walk. Well yesterday she was over visiting and she noticed her pants were wet at the bottom and her sock. Her legs was seeping fluid. We bandaged her up and are waiting on her kidney Dr to call us back, but I am curious as to why her legs are seeping. She has no sores or blisters.

    • Linda Lazarides says:

      Sadly, this is because her tissues are so full of fluid that the pressure is forcing it out through her skin. It happens most in the lower part of the body because due to the effects of gravity this is where water is most prone to collect.

  4. Over the last 18 months I have lost 135 pounds which has put me in an objectively healthy weight range for my height. I did this through an extremely low although medically supervised diet. I did however get to the point where despite diet and exercise, I could not lose any more weight despite being pushed to do so by the diet clinic which insisted I be on the very low end of the weight range. I have always tended towards having a problem with water retention but the problem has now become unbearable. I though that I was doing everything right to prevent water retention. I exercise regularly and vigorously and am in very good physical condition. I eat plenty of vegetables and drink plenty of water. I eat very little fruit as it has not been allowed on my diet. I don’t as a rule eat much sugar but seem to be profoundly affected by it. Despite all of this, the water retention is getting worse so my Doctor prescribed Lasix. As you describe on your site, it seems to make the problem worse. I gained 13 pounds over the last four days which is 10% of my body weight. I outgrow clothes overnight and it definitely effects my sports performance. In spite of everything I have already been doing, is this diet going to be my answer? I already downloaded your e-guide and the book has been ordered from Amazon and is on its way. I guess I would like to know there is hope. One question, is moderate caffeine consumption going to prevent the waterfall diet from working? It may seem like a strange question but all of my consumption has been so severely restricted for so long that I absolutely cherish my coffee and rely on it as well. The last time I tried to cut it out I got positively ill and couldn’t work. Thank you.

    • Linda Lazarides says:

      Karen, as you know, you cannot help a persistent water retention condition without having some knowledge. That is what my books help with. They help you to help yourself. The Waterfall Test is only for a few weeks. You won’t get the information you need unless you do the test properly. Good luck and let us know how you get on.

  5. My daughter went on the pill to relieve heavy periods, she gained weight very quickly about 11pounds, we took her off and hoped the weight would go, she has been off the pill for 2 weeks now but still looks bloated and looks like she is retaining water, will this go away or does she need water retention tablets?

    • Linda Lazarides says:

      Paula, the last thing you should give your daughter for this type of water retention is water pills. Please explore some of the other articles on this site for the reasons why.

  6. Following a major RTA in June which led to fractured Lumbar vertebrae (4) now healed’,collapsed lungs and 95% fractured ribs,collar bone,and right forearms (Both bones)have developed virtually permanent oedama in both legs and many visible capilliaries. Could this be due to excessive use of pain killers? i have not taken any for 3 months.. I walk one mile most days and heat a v. healthy diet. I am 81 yrs old. Would wish to avoid any more pills!¬!!!! Any suggestions?

    • Linda Lazarides says:

      Sylvia, I’m so sorry to hear about your accident. Your exercise and healthy eating are definitely the best things you can do to avoid pills. It is possible that heavy use of painkillers can cause imbalances leading to water retention. It is also possible that your lymphatic system is not working very well after all your injuries, and for this the best solution is massage therapy. Wishing you well.

  7. Did you mean “cortisone” causes you to retain water or “cortisol” from stress causes you to retain water? On a side bar, I tend to weigh more in the summer (warm) months than during the winter which seems to be the opposite for most people. My diet does not vary… nor does my activity level. I drink a lot of water, by which I mean I aim to drink four 33.8 oz. bottles of water a day (like four bottles of Glaceau smartwater). I am truly really curious if stress can cause you to retain water, that is my biggest curiosity.

    • Linda Lazarides says:

      Alison, I would not think that stress on its own is a cause of water retention. You probably weigh more in the winter because your body has to work harder to keep you warm, and so uses up calories more rapidly.

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