What’s causing my water retention?

Water normally makes up 50 to 60% of the human body. It is present on both the inside and outside of the cells and is vital in helping the body function appropriately. It is fundamentally responsible for dissolving nutrients and eliminating waste. When the body fails to remove excess water, this is referred to as edema or water retention.

Water retention or fluid retention occurs when excess fluid builds up within the body which can cause swelling. It often occurs in the ankles, feet, and legs. Other symptoms consist of weight gain and a slight ‘denting’ on the skin when pressure is applied.

Whilst uncomfortable, water retention is not serious. Its causes include poor diet and inactivity and the normal hormonal changes which occur before a monthly period. But, sometimes it can be a sign of a more significant disease, chiefly if it’s severe or comes on very unexpectedly.

Causes of water retention

Edema occur when tiny blood vessels in body leak fluid. This fluid builds up in surrounding tissues, leading to swelling. There are many likely causes of water retention. Thus, if you are suffering from water retention, there could be a number of following factors at play.

Poor diet

One of the leading causes of water retention is poor diet. Moreover, both excess sugar and excess sodium levels can lead to water retention. According to researchers, eating too much salt can lead to water retention. This is because your body needs to hold on to water to dilute it.

Excess insulin

Excess insulin in the system can also cause water retention. As it can cause salt and water to build up in your kidneys. It may be a sign of type 2 diabetes but can also occur due to a poor diet.

Eating too much sugar or refined carbs can result in excess insulin. Thus, it’s important to look at the period of time during which you consume food.

Many people eat food and snacks over an extended period, over 12 hours in a 24-hour day. This can mean that your system is releasing insulin almost the whole time. Therefore, it’s a good idea to keep your intake at least within a 12-hour period to give your system a break.

Lack of movement

A sedentary lifestyle can also play a significant part in causing water retention. While moving, the muscles in our legs pump the fluid back to the heart; and if that is not happening it can be a causative factor. Hence, simply doing a gentle workout can be effective in reducing fluid build-up in some areas of the body.

Being overweight

Excess weight and sitting or standing for more than an hour or two can also cause water retention within the body. This is because excess body fat may put pressure on your veins, thus, can affect your normal circulation.


Pregnancy may also bring about the symptoms of water retention, particularly in the ankles and feet. Generally, this swelling comes on steadily and is a normal side-effect of being pregnant, as the body relaxes to accommodate the baby. But, if swelling comes on rapidly, is accompanied by vomiting or headaches or you feel usually unwell, see your clinician as this may be a sign of pre-eclampsia.


Water retention may also be caused by certain medications – in particular;

  • Medications used to lower blood pressure.
  • Pain relievers are known as NSAIDs, including ibuprofen
  • Antidepressants
  • Chemotherapy medication
  • Pioglitazone to treat type 2 diabetes.

If you are worried, check the side-effects listed on a medication you take, and speak with your doctor about options.

Underlying medical problems

Less often, water retention may be caused by heart problems, counting heart failure. This is more commonly seen in middle-aged and older people. Infrequently, fluid retention may be a sign of problems with the kidneys or liver.

Areeba Hussain

Areeba is an independent medical and healthcare writer. For the last three years, she is writing for Tophealthjournal. Her prime areas of interest are diseases, medicine, treatments, and alternative therapies. Twitter @Areeba94789300

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