Fluid retention is a medical condition which occurs when the body is unable to express fluid, causing it to build up either across the body or in a localized area. More properly known as edema, this condition is very common, and it can have a variety of causes and treatment approaches. It is often associated with pregnancy and hormonal changes caused by the use of hormonal birth control, along with circulatory problems, burns, certain medications, arthritis, and diseases of the liver, kidney, heart, and lungs.
Water plays an important role in the body. It is found in the circulatory system and in the tissues of the body, often in the form of a vehicle for nutrients or waste products. In healthy people, water is moved through the body in the lyphmatic system, which removes excess water while delivering fresh water, and the water is expressed through the kidneys in the form of urine. The body uses a number of systems to keep the water level in balance, adjusting urine production to produce more or less urine as needed. When these systems are disrupted, fluid retention can occur.
The most common symptom of retaining fluid is swelling which may be generalized or in a specific location, like the legs. People may also feel achy and sore, with joint pains, stiffness, and weight gain. In pitting edema, when the area of swelling is pressed, a small pit will form and slowly fill in, while in non-pitting edema, the skin will spring back after it is pressed.
Sometimes, fluid retention is benign, and it will resolve itself. For example, many women retain fluid during the phase in their menstrual cycle in which estrogen rises, and the retained water is expressed later. In other cases, it may be necessary to treat the water retention to avoid additional buildup and make the patient more comfortable. Treatment usually involves determining the underlying cause and addressing it.
People should not respond to fluid retention by drinking less water. Instead, they should consult a doctor to find out why they are retaining water, and what might be done to manage it. For example, sometimes compression garments can be used to help the body express the fluid, or a patient can variate the way in which he or she dresses, sits, or stands to prevent the buildup of fluid. Pregnant women who spend a lot of time on their feet may find, for example, that fluid retention in the legs and ankles can be reduced by resting with the feet elevated.