Fluid Retention: Causes & Treatments
Author: ANCP Date Posted:26 May 2016
Are you feeling puffy around the ankles, fingers or belly? You may be experiencing fluid retention, which occurs when the lymphatic system fails to efficiently transport fluids out of the body tissues and into the blood stream.
What is fluid retention?
Also known as oedema, fluid retention can be generalised (affecting the whole body) or localised to a particular area of the body. In localised fluid retention, the associated swelling is commonly observed at sites such as the feet, ankles and hands, and the affected parts may ache or feel stiff. Generalised fluid retention occurs throughout the body and may also contribute to weight gain.
What causes fluid retention?
Fluid retention may be due to a number of different health problems and imbalances, some of which are serious. Among others, potential causes include:
- Hormonal changes associated with pregnancy, the menstrual cycle or the use of the oral contraceptive pill.
- Chronic venous insufficiency and the associated varicose veins.
- High sodium (salt) intake.
- Hot weather.
- Allergic reactions.
- Poor diet (e.g. inadequate protein levels or low intake of key B vitamins).
- The use of certain prescribed medicines.
Tips for tackling fluid retention:
- Even if it feels counter-intuitive, make sure you drink at least two litres of water per day to help flush fluids through your body. On the other hand, limit the number of caffeine-containing beverages such as coffee and tea that you consume.
- Stick to a low-salt diet by avoiding adding salt to your meals, steering clear of processed foods, take-away meals and by reading the labels on any packaged foods before purchasing them. The recommended daily intake of sodium is only 460-920 mg/day, but it’s very easy to go over that if you’re eating premade or processed foods.
- Exercise regularly to improve lymph flow.
- Lie down for a while every day with your legs elevated above your head.
- Wearing compression stockings may be beneficial for some people.
Herbs to relieve fluid retention:
Herbal medicines that may help to relieve fluid retention include...
- Dandelion leaf - Dandelion leaves have been used as a diuretic in western herbal medicine for hundreds of years, and related species are used for similar reasons in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. One small, short-term study indicates that in the hours after it is initially consumed, dandelion leaf increases urination frequency and the ratio of fluid consumed to that excreted. Importantly, dandelion leaf is a natural source of potassium, an essential mineral that is depleted with the use of some other diuretics.
- Celery seed - Celery seeds have a long history of use as a diuretic and have also traditionally been used to relieve rheumatic conditions such as gout and arthritis.
- Horse chestnut - Horse chestnut seed extract helps to maintain the integrity of the capillary walls, which in turn may help prevent oedema by inhibiting the leakage of fluids from the blood vessels into the tissues. In clinical research involving people with chronic venous insufficiency and varicose veins, it has demonstrated an ability to reduce fluid retention in the lower leg as well as associated symptoms of itching, heaviness and pain.
NB: In some instances fluid retention can be symptomatic of serious disease, including heart disease, kidney disease, chronic lung problems and thyroid disease. If you find you’re retaining fluid and cannot identify the cause, see your healthcare professional.