Water Retention: Causes & Symptoms

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

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Water retention can be a painful and potentially dangerous health condition, so recognizing the symptoms is very important.

What is Water Retention?

Water retention is a medical condition in which there is an unusual buildup of clear liquid in the cavities and tissues of the body. Also known as edema, fluid retention, and hydropsy, it is normally kept under control by various hormones and similar substances, such as prostaglandins, which regulate the volume of water in the body. In conjunction with the kidneys, which excrete excess water through urination, these prostaglandins are responsible for keeping the water balance in the body at a healthy level. However, when there is a disorder or problem with this hormonally-linked system, excess fluid can begin to build up in the body’s tissues. This buildup often happens in the feet, ankles, legs or abdomen, but it can occur anywhere in the body.

What Causes Water Retention?

Water retention can occur for any number of reasons, but some of the major causes behind this condition include excessive sitting or standing, high salt intake, and menstrual changes, among others.

  • Hot weather
  • Hormonal changes
  • Gravity
  • Burns
  • Medications
  • High salt intake
  • Flying in an airplane
  • Sitting or standing for an excessive amount of time
  • Pregnancy
  • Menstrual changes
  • Dietary deficiencies
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Physical inactivity/sedentary lifestyle
  • High blood pressure


There are some very recognizable symptoms of water retention, such as weight gain, edema, tenderness in the limbs or puffiness of the abdomen, among others.

  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Edema (swelling of an area with fluid)
  • Discolored skin
  • Stiffness in the joints and muscles
  • Aching and tenderness in the limbs
  • Stomach upset or constipation
  • Bloating and cramping
  • Swollen legs, feet, and ankles
  • Swelling or puffiness on the face, abdomen, and hips

If you see any of these symptoms, you should seek medical attention to determine the root cause of this problem. While there are natural and herbal remedies for fluid retention, consistent water retention over the long term can be dangerous and may lead to other health problems.

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, and publisher who earned his English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign, Urbana (USA). He is the co-founder of a literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and calls the most beautiful places in the world his office. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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