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Fluid retention can be seen as swelling.

Fluid retention can be seen as swelling.
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Fluid retention

Fluid retention is seen as swelling in one or more parts of the body where fluid gets trapped. It is most common in the ankles and feet. If you have symptoms of fluid retention, it’s a good idea to see a doctor to check the cause and whether any treatment is needed. There are ways you can help yourself.

What is fluid retention?

Fluid retention is also called oedema (or edema in the US) and water retention. It occurs when parts of the body swell due to the build-up of trapped fluid.

You may have fluid retention if you have:

  • swelling or puffiness under the skin
  • skin that looks or feels tight
  • skin that does not bounce back after being pressed for a few seconds
  • a noticeable increase in size of your abdomen.

See your doctor if you have any of these symptoms.

Fluid retention is usually seen as a sign of another problem. But it can also cause pain, damage to the skin and difficulty with walking.

What causes fluid retention?

Some people get fluid retention due to illnesses like:

Certain medications cause fluid retention, such as:

A problem in one part of your arm or leg can cause fluid retention further down your arm or leg, if you have:

  • a problem with your lymphatic system, which drains fluid from tissues
  • a vein condition, such as deep vein thrombosis
  • the build-up of fat, usually in the legs
  • a burn or other type of injury.

You can also get fluid retention if you are pregnant, overweight or malnourished.

Fluid retention treatment

The treatment depends on the cause – talk to your doctor.

Many people will find their problem with fluid improves with more exercise, a healthy diet, less alcohol and less salt.

Some people are prescribed medicines called diuretics to help their body get rid of excess fluid via urine. Some people need to change the medicines they are taking after talking to their doctor.

If the fluid is in just one part of the body, then you might get some relief from:

  • wearing compression stockings
  • massaging the tissue by stroking toward the heart
  • elevate the affected part above your heart when you can
  • exercises as advised by your doctor.

Last reviewed: December 2015

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