How to Reduce Water Retention

Four Methods:Identifying the Cause(s) of Water RetentionReducing Water Retention With DietMaking Lifestyle ChangesSeeking Medical Options

Water retention, formally known as edema, is a symptom of a number of conditions including dehydration, constipation, hormonal changes, excess sodium in the diet, heart conditions and kidney problems. Symptoms of water retention include feeling heavy and bloated, noticeable swelling in the feet, legs and other areas of the body, and an increase in body weight of up to several pounds.

Method 1
Identifying the Cause(s) of Water Retention

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    Look at a calendar if you are a woman who gets a monthly period. Water retention is a classic symptom of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Hormonal changes associated with your menstrual cycle may cause monthly water retention problems. For most women, period bloat occurs 1 or 2 weeks before their periods begin.[1]
    • Water retention is also a common problem during pregnancy and menopause for the same reason. Hormonal changes that occur during these longer transition periods in the body cause excess fluid retention that may be constant, cyclical or intermittent.
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    See your doctor if you notice signs of water retention that you know are not hormone related.
    • Your doctor may run various types of tests, such as blood or urine tests, depending on your other symptoms. These will check the health of your heart, kidneys, liver, circulatory, lymphatic, and thyroid systems. He or she may also ask you about symptoms of arthritis or allergies, both of which can also cause water retention in some cases.[2]
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    See your doctor right away if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms along with your water retention: swelling in the feet, legs, or ankles, swelling in the abdomen, chronic coughing, or extreme fatigue.
    • Water retention that is heart related is a result of changes in your blood pressure. Typically, the legs, feet, and/or ankles will start to swell. Fluid will also build up in the lungs, giving the patient a chronic cough. A doctor may order blood tests, a chest X-ray, or an electrocardiogram (ECG) to determine if your water retention is a symptom of a heart condition.
    • A urine test will determine if you are losing protein through the kidneys and your water retention is a sign of a more serious kidney problem.
    • A physical exam and/or blood tests can determine if there is a liver problem. Again, with a more serious liver condition you would likely have swelling in the feet, legs, ankles, and abdomen. This is actually one of the first signs of liver disease.
    • Finally, blood tests can determine if your water retention is a symptom of circulatory system problems (leaky capillaries), a congested lymphatic system, or a thyroid disease (hypothyroidism).[3]
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    Keep a food diary. Notice what you ate for a few days leading up to the water retention. It may take a couple of days for your body to retain excess body fluid after you eat salty foods.
    • Food sensitivities and/or malnutrition can be causes of water retention. If you have food sensitivities and are still eating these foods, or you are not eating a healthy diet in general, this will show up in your food diary. You can then take steps to change what you are eating.
    • High salt intake and dehydration are leading causes of water retention. How to stay hydrated and eat a balanced healthy diet are discussed more in the next section, "Reducing Water Retention With Diet." [4]

Method 2
Reducing Water Retention With Diet

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    Stay hydrated. 8 glasses of fluids per day is a general guideline- this is about how much most people need to not feel thirsty and have clear or light yellow urine. More active people may need more. All fluids count, but keep in mind that some are not as healthy as water. If you are retaining water, consider whether you are staying hydrated; if your body is suffering from dehydration, it retains water as a survival mechanism.[5]
    • Drink plenty of water, fruit juices, herbal teas and other non-caffeinated beverages allows your kidneys to flush out excess fluids.
    • Avoid caffeine and alcohol, because they contribute to dehydration.
    • Avoid too many sugary drinks or drinks containing high fructose corn syrup (sodas, juice cocktail drinks) because these are simply unhealthy and cause people to gain unwanted weight. [6]
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    Cut back on the sodium in your diet. High-sodium diets are the number one cause of excess water weight.
    • Avoid processed foods, deli meats, salty snacks and other foods that are high in sodium.
    • Don't add salt to cooked meals at the table. Avoid foods like potato chips and salted nuts.
    • Prepare meals using fresh (not canned) vegetables and fruits, grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy products. Watch how much salt you use while cooking; don't add more salt than a recipe calls for. Or, use specifically low-sodium cookbooks and internet recipes.[7]
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    Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet that includes a lot of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and other high-fiber foods.
    • Six servings of grains (at least half of which are whole grains - check the labels) are recommended per day. One serving is one slice of bread, or 1/2 cup (about the size of a baseball) of cooked rice, pasta, or cereal.
    • Four servings of vegetables are recommended per day. Eat a variety of colors and types (if you find that you eat mostly potatoes and corn as your vegetables, you should change this). One serving is one cup of raw leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, lettuce - the size of a small fist), 1/2 cup of cut up raw or cooked vegetables, or 1/2 cup of vegetable juice. Be careful of added sodium in some vegetable juices.
    • Four servings of fruit are recommended per day. Again, eat a variety of colors and types. One serving is one medium sized fruit (about the size of a baseball), 1/4 dried fruit, or 1/2 cup frozen, canned, or fruit juice. Be careful of added sugars in canned fruit or fruit juices and try to avoid these.[8]
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    Check the ingredients list in processed food and drink items before you buy them. Avoid ingredients like MSG (monosodium glutamate), sodium nitrates and nitrites, butylated hydroxy-anisole (BTA), sodium and potassium benzoates, artificial sweeteners (aspartame, saccharin, sucralose), corn syrup, palm oil, and food colorings (Red, Blue, Green, Yellow). This can be a hard habit to stick with. But, there are countless hidden added ingredients that are unhealthy in:
    • frozen foods (chicken nuggets, French fries, TV dinners),
    • anything from a can (beans, meats, vegetables, fruits),
    • boxed foods (rice and pasta side dishes),
    • children's cereals, and
    • popular drinks (sodas of course, but even teas, juices, and flavored waters).[9]
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    Allow time for cooking. It can be difficult to make time to cook meals using fresh ingredients and making the move away from quick, processed foods, but it can make a huge difference in your health.
    • Get your family involved in looking up recipes and cooking with you to make it a fun activity that everyone looks forward to.
    • If you must use certain processed foods in a recipe, there are ways to adapt them, such as draining and rinsing the salt from your canned beans before putting them into the meal.

Method 3
Making Lifestyle Changes

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    Get 20 minutes of physical exercise daily. Exercise is a necessary part of a healthy lifestyle and has shown to be helpful in controlling water retention.
    • Take a walk or go hiking with friends or family.
    • Ride a bike, go swimming, or go jogging.
    • Grab a basketball or baseball and glove and hit the courts or the field.
    • If you live close enough, ride your bike or walk instead of driving to work or to run errands. You would also be helping the environment by driving less. Just be sure to wear a helmet and abide traffic laws while biking.
    • If you have to clean the house, put on music and dance while you clean. You would be surprised all the ways there are to exercise![10]
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    Elevate your feet and legs. Standing for too many hours or sitting all day with your feet on the floor may cause fluids to drain into your feet and legs, which causes swelling.
    • Lie down or sit with your feet elevated when resting and taking breaks.
    • While lying down, have your feet elevated at least 12 inches above your heart level. You can put them on top of a stack of pillows or blankets.[11]
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    Take extra care to heed the diet, hydration, and lifestyle recommendations if you are a woman who experiences PMS. Often women who experience PMS crave extra salt and sugar. Try not to give into these cravings especially if you are someone who experiences severe cramping and bloating during the 1-2 weeks before your period. Regular exercise is also known to help women experience less PMS symptoms.
    • If you are following all of the diet and lifestyle recommendations but still experience extreme monthly cramping and bloating, discuss this with your gynecologist. You may have another nutrient deficiency or gynecological problem that he or she can help you with. [12]

Method 4
Seeking Medical Options

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    Follow your doctor's advice and all directions for prescriptions if you have been diagnosed with a health problem that can cause water retention. Be sure that you report any changes in your health or your symptoms right away if you have a more serious condition that requires frequent medical supervision.
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    Consult with your doctor about taking nutritional supplements if your diet may be lacking in certain nutrients due to food sensitivities. Deficiencies in protein, calcium, magnesium and vitamins B1, B5 and B6 may lead to problems with water retention.
    • Your doctor or another qualified nutrition specialist can help you determine what nutrients you may be lacking based on your food diary or a basic summary of what you eat.
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    Consult with your doctor about trying a natural diuretic. Some herbal remedies are known to increase the kidney's fluid output, which helps control water retention.
    • Dandelion has no harmful side effects and can be used indefinitely. Add 10 to 20 drops of dandelion tincture to salads or other foods daily.
    • Dong quai is best added to an herbal tea and taken at bedtime because it has a mild sedative effect. Some teas are sold with dong quai in them, or you can purchase it as oil and add a few drops to your favorite tea. In addition to being a diuretic, dong quai is known to inhibit the growth of bacteria.
    • Essential oils used in vaporizers, gargles, baths and massage may help combat water retention. Lavender, rosemary, geranium and cypress are known to have good results.[13]
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    Consult with your doctor about taking a chemical diuretic sold over the counter, or one that can be prescribed for you.
    • "Loop diuretics" such as Lasix are most common, and they inhibit sodium reabsorption into the bloodstream, causing more water to drain as urine. This type of diuretic is especially helpful for patients suffering from renal impairment, liver cirrhosis, or heart conditions. While they can drain the body's store of potassium and contribute to osteoporosis, there is a kind that includes an extra potassium supplement in it (Lasix K).
    • Other types of chemical diuretics include thiazide diuretics, which produce similar effects as loop diuretics, and potassium-sparing diuretics such as spironolactone, which only inhibit the absorption of sodium and not potassium.
    • Some prescription and over-the-counter medications interact with or counteract diuretics. Check with your doctor to make sure a diuretic will not negatively affect any medication you are taking.

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