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Why am I Retaining Water and What Causes Water Weight?

Upto 60% of our body is water, what happens when it starts to retain more water then it needs
Water weight also known as water retention occurs when your body holds onto excess fluid in various body parts, tissues, or within the circulatory system. This can result in visible puffiness, discomfort, and pain especially when touching the affected areas. Excess water retention can be a sign that your body is struggling to eliminate fluid properly.
There are numerous factors both known and unknown that can contribute to excess water retention. When fluid accumulates excessively in your body it disrupts the natural fluid balance potentially causing health issues.
Water retention or the buildup of excess fluid in your body can occur for various reasons and makes you bloated and heavier than usual. One common cause of water retention is circulatory issues like congestive heart failure or venous insufficiency. When your heart isn’t pumping blood efficiently your kidneys respond by retaining water and salt to boost blood volume and improve circulation throughout the body. This increase in water and salt retention can lead to water retention or edema, particularly in the lower extremities, abdomen, or lungs leading to swelling and discomfort.

What is the circulatory system?

The circulatory system, which includes the heart, blood vessels, and blood, acts as a complex delivery system in our bodies. Its main job is to carry crucial substances like oxygen, nutrients, and hormones to every cell, tissue, and organ, while also getting rid of waste products and carbon dioxide. This process ensures that our entire body functions properly and stays healthy.
Through arteries, veins, and tiny blood vessels called capillaries, blood transports important nutrients such as electrolytes, oxygen, carbon dioxide, and amino acids, which are essential for keeping us well. With the heart pumping at its core, blood continuously flows throughout the body, ensuring that every part gets what it needs to function.

What Causes Water Weight?

Our body has mechanisms to regulate fluid balance, such as the kidneys and lymphatic system but when these mechanisms fail or are disrupted due to some underlying disease, it can lead to the accumulation of excess fluid in the body where the fluid can’t be moved out of the tissues and the tissue begins to swell.
Excess water accumulation is called edema. The swelling due to edema can occur in different parts of the body, such as the face, legs, ankles, and feet with many visible signs.

What Are The Signs Of Water Retention?

Here are the common signs that will tell your body is holding water.
  • A feeling of tightness or fullness in the affected areas
  • Increased circumference of the affected areas
  • Itchy and dry skin
  • Pain or discomfort in the affected area
  • Skin appears stretched or shiny
  • Dimpling of the skin
  • Stubborn weight gain
  • Face, hand, feet, leg, or breast swelling

11 Factors That Can Cause Water Retention In Your Body

1. High Sodium

Sodium is an essential mineral that helps with nerve and muscle function and balances fluids in the body. It is mostly consumed by humans in the form of salt, which is composed of 40% sodium and 60% chloride. When you consume excessive sodium, your body retains more water to help dilute it and flush out the excess sodium.
This can result in temporary weight gain and a feeling of bloating or puffiness. Long-term or chronic high sodium intake can contribute to health issues such as high blood pressure, which may increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and kidney problems.
Sodium and heart functioning – Excessive sodium consumption has been linked to high blood pressure. Sodium attracts water, so when there’s too much sodium in your bloodstream, it causes your body to retain more water. This increased blood volume puts added pressure on your blood vessels and heart, which can lead to hypertension or high blood pressure. Over time, high blood pressure can damage the arteries, heart, and other organs, increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular issues.
Sodium and kidney functioning – A sodium-heavy diet can impair kidney function too. The kidneys play a crucial role in maintaining the body’s balance of fluids and electrolytes, including sodium. When you consistently consume excessive amounts of sodium, the kidneys have to work harder to filter and excrete the excess sodium from your body. This prolonged strain on the kidneys can lead to various kidney-related issues, such as reduced kidney function, impaired filtration, an increased risk of kidney disease, and water retention.
Avoid consuming high quantities of convenience and processed foods which often contain high amounts of sodium. Adopt a diet that is lower in sodium, emphasize whole and minimally processed foods, and drink an adequate amount of water to help maintain a healthy balance of fluids and electrolytes in your body.

2. Inactivity

Sitting or standing for extended periods can result in leg swelling, which occurs because of reduced blood flow and increased hydrostatic pressure. When we stay in one position for too long, especially in situations where our legs are hanging down, the natural mechanisms that facilitate blood circulation can become less effective.
The contraction of leg muscles which aids in pumping blood back up to the heart slows down when we’re immobile. This leads to a buildup of blood in the lower extremities causing fluid to leak from blood vessels into the surrounding tissues and resulting in swelling.
The relentless pull of gravity exacerbates this issue by increasing pressure on the leg’s blood vessels. It is also considered that the lymphatic system of our body which is responsible for removing excess fluid from our tissues can also be negatively impacted by prolonged inactivity, further contributing to the accumulation of fluids in the legs or lower part of our body.

3. Injury

Swelling often occurs when fluid leaks from blood vessels and accumulates around damaged areas. This process is closely linked to the body’s inflammatory response. When an injury or tissue damage occurs the body swiftly deploys white blood cells, proteins, antibodies, and supportive fluids to the affected site. This influx of biological components results in inflammation and swelling.
Importantly, the excess fluid produced by the body serves a protective purpose, shielding the damaged tissues from further harm. In the initial stages of managing such swelling, it’s crucial to remember the acronym “PRICE”
  • P for Protection – Protect the injured area from further damage or stress to avoid exacerbating the problem.
  • R for Rest – Rest the affected limb or area to prevent prolonged irritation or strain.
  • I for Ice (Cold) – Applying cold packs or ice can help control pain, reduce bleeding, and alleviate edema (swelling).
  • C for Compression – Compression, often through bandages or wraps, provides support and helps in managing swelling.
  • E for Elevation – Elevating the injured limb or area assists in reducing bleeding and edema by encouraging fluid to move away from the affected site.

4. Alcohol

Antidiuretic hormone (ADH), also known as vasopressin, plays a central role in regulating the body’s water balance. Produced by the hypothalamus and released by the pituitary gland, ADH acts on the kidneys to control the amount of water excreted in urine.
Alcohol suppresses ADH levels, resulting in higher urine production and reduced water retention. Alcohol influences ADH, even small quantities of alcohol consumption can disrupt the body’s water balance. Alcohol possesses diuretic properties leading to increased urine production that accelerates water removal from blood vessels. This water loss can lead to dehydration but to avoid that our body triggers the prevention mechanism by prompting essential organs to store excess water.
However, when alcohol leaves the system, the body gradually restores its natural water balance by returning ADH levels to normal, allowing the kidneys to manage water efficiently.

5. Hormonal Imbalance

Hormonal imbalances can be a significant factor in your body holding unnecessary water. These imbalances arise when specific hormones are either overproduced or underproduced, disrupting the body’s delicate equilibrium. Few scenarios when hormonal changes can cause water retention in our body:
  • One familiar example of hormonal fluctuations which is observed in females is during the menstrual cycle, where premenstrual hormonal changes frequently lead to water retention and bloating.
  • The hormonal variations characterizing menopause in females, marked by fluctuating estrogen and progesterone levels can also contribute to water retention and bloating. Estrogen often acts as a hormone that retains fluids, while progesterone serves as a natural diuretic. When the balance between these hormones is disrupted, it can result in noticeable bloating, a common occurrence during perimenopause(transitional phase before menopause).
  • Aldosterone (ALD) is a hormone secreted by your adrenal glands, and it plays a crucial role in regulating blood pressure by carefully managing the levels of minerals, mainly sodium and potassium in your bloodstream. If aldosterone levels are elevated, the kidneys retain more sodium, leading to increased water reabsorption. This excess water can accumulate in the tissues, leading to the phenomenon of water retention.

6. Diabetes

Diabetes is a chronic condition stemming from the body’s inability to effectively regulate and utilize circulating blood sugar. There are two primary forms:
  • Type 1 diabetes is characterized by an inability to produce sufficient insulin.
  • Type 2 diabetes, where the body struggles to respond to the available insulin.
In both cases of diabetes, patients experience significantly elevated glucose levels in the bloodstream. This high glucose concentration can lead to damage to the delicate lining of small blood vessels and extend to other vessels like capillaries and veins.
Consequently, this damage results in compromised circulation, which means that the normal flow of blood through these vessels is hindered or impaired due to the damage caused by high glucose levels. This compromised circulation can lead to various complications, including swelling and edema in the extremities.

7. Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism, a condition characterized by an underactive thyroid gland can lead to fluid retention and swelling in various body parts, often noticeable in areas such as the face, around the eyes, and in the hands and feet. When the thyroid gland produces fewer hormones than required, as is the case in hypothyroidism, it leads to a decreased basal metabolism, reduced thermogenesis, and alteration in the body’s energy expenditure, making it more prone to weight gain.
Also, the inadequate function of the thyroid gland can have broader effects on the body’s organs, including the kidneys and liver. These organs play crucial roles in maintaining fluid balance and overall metabolism. When they function inadequately due to hypothyroidism, it can contribute to symptoms such as edema and weight gain.

8. Pregnancy

As pregnancy progresses the body starts accumulating fluid and it’s completely normal during pregnancy to hold water. As the body goes through many phases in 9 months it is considered as a natural occurrence or response from the body.
A few points to understand why the body holds water during pregnancy time:
  • During pregnancy, the pressure exerted by your growing womb can impact the blood flow in your legs, leading to fluid accumulation in areas like the legs, ankles, and feet.
  • Pregnancy triggers the production of hormones like aldosterone and cortisol by the adrenal glands. Fluid accumulates in the female body during pregnancy because of the high production of these hormones.
  • As the uterus expands to accommodate the developing fetus, it can interfere with the normal blood flow from the legs back to the heart. This disruption in circulation can contribute to the accumulation of fluids in the lower extremities.
  • Pregnancy-related factors, such as weight gain, increased blood volume, breast tissue development, uterus expansion, placental growth, and amniotic fluid production, all play a part in fluid retention during pregnancy.

9. Stress levels

Stress is more than just an emotional experience; it’s a powerful force that can set off a complex chain reaction within our bodies, resulting in noticeable physical changes. Among these changes, a prominent one is water retention where our bodies retain excess fluids. This phenomenon is closely intertwined with the activation of specific hormones, including cortisol, aldosterone, and antidiuretic hormone (ADH), all in response to stress.
Stress directly influences our body’s water balance by orchestrating the release of these hormones, leading to the retention of fluids.

10. Sleep apnea and water retention

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder in which a person’s breathing is interrupted while sleeping. People with sleep apnea repeatedly stop and start breathing while in sleep. Apnea severity has been associated with overnight fluid displacement from the legs to the neck.
Patients suffering from sleep apnea had a higher baseline fluid content in both legs as compared to the normal population. Several health conditions increase the likelihood of developing sleep apnea but it is most common in people who are overweight or obese.

11. Certain Medications and Water Retention

Certain medications including hormonal drugs, corticosteroids, antipsychotic medicines, antidepressants, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and calcium channel blockers, may occasionally lead to the temporary buildup of fluid in cells, tissues, or body cavities, resulting in noticeable swelling.
However, it’s important to note that any weight gain associated with these medications is typically minimal and tends to resolve within 2 to 3 months as a temporary side effect. If you have concerns about medication-related side effects, it’s advisable to discuss them with your healthcare provider.

When Should I See My GP For Water Retention?

It’s crucial to seek immediate medical attention if you experience abrupt, unexplained swelling in only one limb or if this swelling is accompanied by concerning symptoms such as chest pain, difficulty breathing, coughing up blood, fever, or if your skin becomes red and warm to the touch. In these emergencies, it’s best to seek prompt medical care.
For more ongoing or non-emergency concerns related to water retention, you may want to consult with specialists who can provide further evaluation and guidance. These specialists include vascular surgeons (experts in blood vessels), cardiovascular doctors (specialists in heart health), hematologists (experts in liver-related issues), and nephrologists (specialists in kidney health).

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