Fluid Retention After Surgery

The term 'edema' refers to the visible swelling that is caused by accumulation of excess fluid in the body tissues. There have been instances of edema in individuals who have undergone a surgery. This write-up will throw some light on the possible causes of fluid retention after surgery.
HealthHearty Staff
Last Updated: Apr 9, 2018
Accumulation of fluid in the interstitial spaces of body's organs could be caused due to a wide range of reasons. It could be a symptom of serious medical conditions such as heart failure, kidney problems, thyroid problems, diabetes, metabolic disorders or chronic venous insufficiency. Lymphatic obstruction, which is a medical condition that is characterized by the inability of the lymphatic vessels to drain lymph fluid from the body tissues due to a blockage in lymphatic vessels, could also cause lymphedema. Lymphedema could be caused due to injuries or infections. It could even develop as a post-surgery complication owing to the damage caused to lymphatic vessels during surgery.
Though water retention usually occurs in the lower extremities, fluid could also accumulate in the interstitial spaces in other parts of the body. It could be localized as well as generalized. Edema is not uncommon after an invasive surgery. Let's understand the reasons behind fluid retention after surgery.
Trauma: Edema is usually attributed to inflammation that may result from the trauma that is inflicted on the body tissues during the surgery. Though a surgeon may follow certain methods to minimize injury, trauma is inevitable. The extent of trauma would vary depending on the nature of the surgical procedure. This condition is most likely to affect a person who has undergone an invasive open surgery rather than those who have undergone a minimally-invasive surgical procedure.
Lymphatic Obstruction: If the lymphatic vessels get damaged while one is being surgically operated upon, the flow of the lymph fluid can get adversely affected. Fluid buildup could even be caused due to an obstruction that may result from an overgrowth or an infection. Drainage of lymph fluid might also be adversely affected if one has been immobilized for a prolonged period of time. So, those who have been bedridden for a prolonged period of time after surgery are at a risk of developing lymphedema.
Heart Surgery: Accumulation of fluid in the tissues could be a result of a heart surgery. Swelling in feet might be experienced by patients who have had a vein removed during heart surgery. Pulmonary edema or fluid in lungs after surgery is also not uncommon. This generally occurs as the heart and lungs are at rest during the surgery while the heart/lung bypass machine does the task of pumping oxygenated blood. So, once the machine is taken off after surgery, your own heart and lungs might have some problems.
Stress: Accumulation of fluid in the interstitial spaces could even be triggered by hormonal imbalance that may be caused by stress. It is believed that the levels of ADH (anti-diuretic hormone) could increase due to the high levels of stress experienced by the patients who have undergone a major surgery. ADH, which is commonly referred to as arginine vasopressin, acts on the kidneys and facilitates the conservation of water in the body. It does so by reducing the amount of water that may be lost in urine. As ADH stimulates the re-absorption of water into blood, it may cause the retention of fluid within the vascular space.
Other Causes: Another cause of water retention post surgery could be use of certain drugs such as blood vessel dilators, calcium channel blockers, anti-hypertensives, certain synthetic hormones or steroids. It could be a result of fluid shifts due to the administration of intravenous fluids during or after the surgery.
If you notice visible swelling along with other symptoms after a surgery, you must seek medical assistance at the earliest. The treatment would involve drug therapy along with dietary modification and other lifestyle-related changes.
Medication: The use of diuretics is the most common treatment option that is recommended for treating edema that may occur post surgery. Diuretics are a class of a drugs that help in removing the excess water and sodium from the body by increasing the urine output.
Massage: Once the patient has recovered from the surgery, he / she can also have lymphatic drainage massage performed by a trained massage therapist. Using lymphedema compression garments will certainly help in facilitating drainage of the lymph fluid.
Diet: A very high intake of salt causes sodium levels in blood to shoot up and to counter this development, the body tries to retain more fluids. One must therefore follow a low salt diet to prevent this condition. One must also stay well-hydrated and include natural diuretic foods to one's diet.
Exercises: Those who have been living a sedentary lifestyle are at an increased risk of developing water retention in body. The dietary changes alone will not suffice. Once a person has completely recovered from the surgery, one should also increase the level of physical activity and follow an exercise regimen. It would be wise to consult the doctor about the exercises that you can perform after surgery.
Edema is not very uncommon post surgery, but that doesn't mean that you could ignore it. Usually post surgical edema or tissue swelling may subside on its own, but if it doesn't resolve soon, you should consult a doctor immediately.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.