Are the rings on your fingers feeling tight? Or maybe your shoes pinch or feel tight suddenly? Does your skin retain the indent for a few seconds after being pressed? These, and some other symptoms such as stiff joints and bloated tummy, may indicate fluid or water retention in your body. Also called edema, this condition is generally an annoyance, but can also signal more serious underlying conditions. Water retention occurs when fluid gets trapped in the body’s tissues, generally the feet, ankles, and legs.
Pressure within veins or damage to them, causes them to leak blood plasma (that is mainly water) into neighboring tissues. This fluid pools in the feet and ankles, but may also be more generalized through the entire body. Sitting on a long plane ride, standing for long periods of time, dietary deficiencies (insufficient vitamin B12 or protein), hormones associated with the menstrual cycle or with pregnancy, reaction to hot weather in the summer months, and certain medications, can all cause water retention.
Consuming food and drinks high in salt content and weakened valves in the deep veins of the legs are also causes of water retention. If the swelling is mild and resolves itself within a few days, then the condition is not alarming. The excess fluid is absorbed by the body when you sleep. But if the swelling persists or worsens, or you experience shortness of breath along with it, then the condition may be worrisome, as it may signal liver, kidney, or thyroid disease, or even heart failure.
Perhaps the easiest way to combat water retention is to reduce your sodium intake. If you are prone to getting edema, also avoid sitting or standing for extended periods of time. Including more protein in your diet may also be beneficial, as it encourages your body to remove excess fluid. Similarly, foods rich in potassium (think bananas) also help to remove excess fluids. Dehydrating drinks such as coffee, tea, and alcohol should be avoided. Monitoring medications that you may be taking for other medical conditions, and changing the medication or dosage may also help to relieve water retention. In more severe cases of water retention, a doctor may prescribe a diuretic to reduce swelling.
Other treatments for edema depend upon the cause, severity, and other specific related conditions if any. During pregnancy, for example, excessive swelling may indicate preeclampsia, a serious condition which may be treated by bed rest, medications, and other treatments as seen fit by your doctor. A one-sided swelling may indicate vein inflammation (a condition called phlebitis) which you may also need to see a doctor for.
Generally speaking, water retention is a temporary, and relatively harmless condition that can fix itself within a few days. However, it can also signal a more serious medical condition if the less worrisome symptoms persist, are severe, or are accompanied by other serious symptoms such as chest pain and cough. Get medical help right away in such a situation.