When you think of the human body, you think of solid material like bones, skin, and muscle. Surprisingly, though, the body is composed mostly of water. In fact, when we’re infants, our bodies are around 75% water; by the time we become adults, that equalizes out to around 50-60% water. And because of this high fluid content, regulation of bodily fluids is an important process that keeps us functioning. Sometimes, however, these processes don’t function normally; one of the most common ways this manifests is fluid retention.
Fluid retention (or water retention) is the condition of having a build-up of excess fluid in the body tissues. Also technically known as edema (or oedema), fluid retention is often seen in the arms and legs, but it can also present generally all over the body. In addition to swelling and puffiness, the skin may feel tight or look shiny or discolored. The combination of swelling and achy joints may also make walking difficult. Symptoms can also include weight gain, bloating, coughing, or, in rare cases, shortness of breath.
Fluids in the body can be divided into two categories: intracellular and extracellular. Intracellular fluid is all the space inside all of the cells in our body. Because this fluid represents about 40% of our body weight and is the site of most chemical reactions in the body, the volume mostly remains stable. Extracellular fluid is, by contrast, highly variable in composition and volume and makes up about 20% of our body weight. When someone is retaining water, it’s because of a change in extracellular fluid.
Most cases of edema are actually localized to a particular area of the body rather than being seen all over the body. Indeed, the specific location of the fluid retention can help doctors tremendously in determining the underlying cause. Below are some examples of particular types of edema:
Fluids in the body are constantly in flux due to a number of different regulatory mechanisms that are always working toward homeostasis. There are a variety of stimuli that can disrupt homeostasis and lead to fluid retention and the associated symptoms. Below are some of the most common causes of fluid retention:
Temporary water retention is normal for everyone from time to time, but it can become a more serious medical condition in some circumstances. A physical examination by a doctor can identify areas of swelling or a tightening of skin. Another diagnostic method used by doctors is to check for pitting. To determine whether there is pitting, the doctor presses a finger on the affected area; the severity of the edema is dependent on how long the skin takes to bounce back. In the most extreme cases, it can take over a minute for the indentation in the skin to return to normal.
Not all types of edema will require treatment and mild cases may go away on their own. For instance, water retention is strongly associated with pregnancy and menstruation on a temporary basis. If a doctor determines that the edema is more severe, the treatment will depend on the underlying cause. Generally speaking, though, there are a few recognized categories of treatment that get used most frequently:
When the underlying cause of water retention is something like congestive heart failure or a side effect of a cancer procedure, there isn’t really a way to prevent it. On the other hand, there are some lifestyle changes that can decrease the chances; as alluded to above, one key change is reducing your salt intake by switching to a low salt diet. Another option is to become more physically active, especially if you have a very sedentary lifestyle. The great thing about both of these is that they can also have a positive impact on other aspects of your overall health and wellbeing.
Many people associate water retention with weight gain, but even reversing water retention isn’t the same thing as actually burning fat. If, like many other Americans, you’ve been wanting to lose weight but haven’t been able to succeed with the traditional methods, it might be time for a new approach. At True You Weight Loss, we are passionate about helping people find long term success at keeping off the weight. To learn more about our state-of-the-art non-surgical weight loss solutions, please contact us today to request a consultation.