Q. How can one deal with water retention and weight gain due to it?
Fluid regularly leaks into body tissues from the blood. The lymphatic system is a network of tubes throughout the body that drains this fluid (called lymph) from tissues and empties it back into the bloodstream. When fluid is not removed by the lymph system, it is retained in the body tissues where it causes swelling (oedema). Typically, such leakage by itself is insufficient to cause noticeable swelling. But if the brain senses that fluid is being lost, it instructs the kidneys to retain sodium and water, leading to an increase in the volume of fluid in the bloodstream, which, in turn, causes additional leakage of fluid from the capillaries. Oedema tends to become noticeable at this point.
There are many common causes of fluid retention, which include:
- Gravity - standing up for long periods of time allows fluid to ‘pool’ in the tissues of the lower leg.
- Lifestyle – diet (excess sodium in the diet, insufficient protein or vitamin B1 deficiency) and lack of exercise.
- Hot weather - the body tends to be less efficient at removing fluid from tissues during the summer months.
- Burns - including sunburn. The skin retains fluid and swells in response to burn injuries.
- Menstrual cycle - some women experience oedema in the two weeks prior to menstruation, believed to be caused by the impact of hormones on fluid balance.
- Pregnancy - hormones encourage the body to hold onto excess fluid.
- The Pill - oral contraceptives that include oestrogen can trigger fluid retention.
- Medications - certain drugs, including high blood pressure medication (antihypertensives), corticosteroids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are known to cause fluid retention.
- Medical conditions - Fluid retention may be a symptom of serious underlying conditions, including: kidney disease, heart failure, chronic lung disease, liver disease, thyroid disease, arthritis etc.
The symptoms are:
• Swelling of affected body parts
• Feet, ankles and hands are commonly affected
• The affected body parts may ache
• The joints may feel stiff
• Rapid weight gain over a few days or weeks
• Unexplained weight fluctuations
• When pressed, the skin may hold the indent for a few seconds (pitting oedema)
• In other cases, the skin may not indent when pressed (non-pitting oedema)
Depending on the cause, treatment may include:
• A low salt diet. Besides avoiding obviously salty fries, pizza, salted nuts and other convenience foods, cut down on foods containing hidden salt. These include some processed foods, salad dressings, cereals and canned soups. Become a label reader. Moreover, don't add salt during the cooking process and stop salting your meals at the table.
• Diuretics (water pills)
• Treatment for the underlying medical condition: for example hormone replacement (thyroxine) in the case of hypothyroidism.
• Lifestyle changes in response to the underlying medical condition: for example avoidance of alcohol, if liver disease is the cause.
• Changes to medication or dosage, if drugs are the cause.
• Dietary adjustments, if malnutrition is the cause.
• Drink plenty of water. It may sound contradictory but a well-hydrated body is less likely to retain fluid.
• Cut back on dehydrating drinks such as tea, coffee and alcohol.
• Cranberry juice has a mild diuretic action.
• Lie down with your legs higher than your head when possible.