How to Tell if You're Retaining Water

30 December, 2019
Water retention is more common in those who are overweight, lead a sedentary lifestyle, or have a poor diet.

Water retention is very common in women over the age of 40. This condition tends to develop when the body begins to retain more water than it should.

Water retention is often caused by obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, menstruation, and by having an unbalanced high-sodium diet. It may also occur during menopause and pregnancy.

The symptoms will be milder or more severe depending on how much water your body is retaining. If you feel bloated, you’re having trouble losing weight, or you’ve even put on a few pounds, it may well be the result of water retention.

As a precaution, it’s best to consult with a medical professional, especially if swelling occurs very suddenly, or if it may be the result of one of the conditions mentioned above. In the meantime, we want to explain some of the typical symptoms of water retention, and give you some tips to help prevent it in future.

Symptoms of water retention 

Symptoms may vary depending on the location and the amount of water you’re retaining. However, these are the most common ones:

Want to know more? Read: 5 Diuretic Infusions to Eliminate Liquids

Swelling

swollen legs

  1. Look at your feet and legs. These are the first places where you can detect water retention. Unusually heavy, swollen and tired legs are a good warning sign. 
  2. Swollen ankles are another sign of water retention. Your ankles are particularly sensitive to these ailments, so it’s common for them to swell. It should be easy to notice, as your shoes will feel tighter than normal, to the point where you may even struggle to put them on.
  3. You should also look at your hands and wrists.  If you are having trouble putting on or taking off rings, bracelets and watches, it is mostly happening because your body is retaining water.
  4. A puffy face can be another symptom. It’s usually easy to spot changes in the face, especially around the eyes and cheeks.
  5. The belly is one of the most affected areas. Swelling is usually very prominent, and may increase as the day goes by.

Joint pain or inflammation

The pain or discomfort will be limited to a specific point between two bones, ie. a joint. The pain will be constant, and usually appears after spending a long time on your feet, as stated in this article from the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

Skin indentations

skin indentations

If you notice part of your body seems swollen, try putting pressure on it. If, after releasing the pressure, it takes a while for the skin to return to normal, it may be due to water retention. This is known as pitting edema, according to this article from the US National Library of Medicine.

Even if there is no visible swelling, you may notice the appearance of other types of marks on your skin.

For example, if you notice visible marks after wearing socks or stockings for a few hours, then your legs or ankles are probably swollen.

See also: 8 Foods to Avoid When You Have Inflammation

Weight gain

woman weighing herself

If you’re retaining lots of water, you may gain weight. If you exercise regularly, haven’t eaten any more than usual and you’ve still gained weight, it may be due to water retention.

This can also happen as a result of changes in your metabolism. This can often happen during menopause, as shown in this study by the pharmaceutical company CINFA. It’s best to consult with a doctor to identify the cause.

Weigh yourself on a daily basis. Try to do it as soon as you wake up, before eating breakfast. If you notice any changes in weight, or you feel swollen or bloated, it may be the result of water retention or some metabolic change.

Tips for preventing water retention

  • Maintain a low-sodium diet. Salty and over-seasoned foods make it more likely to suffer from water retention, as confirmed in this study by the Diego Portales University in Chile.
  • Don’t eat junk food. Due to its high additive content, junk food can be very harmful to your health. Plus, they’re usually high in salt, which, as we’ve already mentioned, can promote water retention.
  • Avoid a sedentary lifestyle and start exercising regularly. Physical activity allows your body to eliminate toxins. Toxins can cause the body to retain more fluid than normal, as shown in this investigation by the Austral University of Chile.
  • If you work at a desk all day, try to get up every 30 minutes. This may help to prevent water retention in your legs, feet, and ankles. While there is scientific evidence to support this, it won’t hurt to give it a try.

Fluid retention is a very common problem, especially in middle-aged women. If you think you’re suffering from this problem, it’s best to see a doctor and tell him/her about your symptoms, so that they can prescribe the best course of treatment.

In the meantime, try to follow some of the tips and advice mentioned in this article.

Baffet, H., Robin, G., & Letombe, B. (2015). Menopausia. EMC – Ginecología-Obstetricia. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1283-081X(15)72832-8

Pavón De Paz, I., Alameda Hernando, C., & Olivar Roldán, J. (2006). Obesidad y menopausia. Nutricion Hospitalaria.