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Symptoms and Causes of Water Retention

Water retention or edema refers to the accumulation of water within the tissues, which leads to swelling. This condition can affect some specific parts of the body or the entire body. This article discusses the factors that can cause edema, and its symptoms.
Chandramita Bora
Last Updated: Mar 13, 2018
Edema is the medical term for water retention within the tissues. This condition can affect some specific parts of the body or the entire body. Accordingly, edema or fluid retention can be classified into two main categories - generalized edema (causes swelling throughout the body), and localized edema (causes swelling in some specific areas of the body).
Generally, excess fluid from the tissues are carried by the lymphatic system, and then returned to the bloodstream. It is then eliminated by the kidneys. But in edema, this fluid accumulates within the tissues due to certain factors or underlying health problems, which are discussed below.
Causes of Edema
One of the most common causes of fluid retention is the excessive intake of salt or sodium. Sodium is known to increase the ability of the kidneys to retain more water. This can cause the accumulation of water or fluid within the tissues. Even high temperature can affect the body's ability to remove fluid. A low level of albumin in blood, and a deficiency of vitamin B1, B5, and B6 are some other important factors that can cause edema.
Many women experience this condition one or two weeks before menstruation, due to a drop in the level of progesterone and a rise in the level of estrogen. Estrogen increases the secretion of aldosterone, which stimulates the kidneys to retain more water. Women are also likely to experience fluid retention during pregnancy due to hormonal changes. Oral contraceptives that contain estrogen can also cause water retention in some women. Sometimes, hormonal changes can induce fluid retention in menopausal women as well.
Certain drugs like hypertension medications, anti-inflammatory medications, and steroids can cause edema at times. However, edema can also be a symptom of some serious underlying health problems and diseases. For example, renal diseases can lower the excretion of sodium and fluid from body by damaging the kidneys. This can cause water retention in legs and eyes. Water or fluid retention can develop when the veins of the legs fail to return blood to the heart due to some defects in their valves. This causes blood to pool inside the leg veins, and as a result, one can experience swelling of the ankles and feet.
Heart failure like congestive heart failure can adversely affect the pumping ability of the heart, which can cause the retention of excess fluid in the body. Usually, right heart failure causes accumulation of fluid and swelling in the legs and the abdomen, while left heart failure causes pulmonary edema (accumulation of fluid in the lungs). Liver diseases like cirrhosis can cause fluid accumulation in the abdominal cavity and feet. Some other causes of edema are, arthritis and thyroid diseases like hypothyroidism.
Symptoms of Edema
The most common symptoms of this condition are, swelling, enlargement of the abdomen, weight gain, and fluctuations in body weight. Pulmonary edema can cause breathing difficulty in patients.
Edema can be diagnosed with a careful observation of the symptoms, and by carrying out certain tests like blood tests, urine tests, liver function test, and heart function test. The treatment of this condition is mainly determined by the underlying causes. However, diuretics are usually prescribed by physicians for treating edema. In addition to medications, lifestyle modifications, and a low salt or low sodium diet are required to prevent the complications associated with this condition.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for professional medical advice.
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