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Edema (Water Retention) 101: Symptoms, Causes & 18 Home Remedies

Mar 12, 2022

You might have experienced mild oedema once or twice. You might have noticed it first thing in the morning when you woke up with puffy eyes, or you may have noticed your feet were swollen after sitting down for a long period. This is because mild Edema is common and can happen daily. It is also temporary. However, oedema becomes a cause for concern when the swelling is persistent and it begins to cause pain and discomfort. When this happens, it is important to schedule an appointment with your doctor.

Oedema can happen to anyone, may it be you or your loved ones. As such it is important to be aware of what exactly oedema is and what to do to treat it. We’ve also prepared a useful list of home remedies for you that can help reduce or avoid water retention altogether.


What is Edema?

Oedema, or water retention, happens when the fluid balance in our body is disrupted. Excess fluid leaks out of the blood vessels and accumulates in the tissues causing visible swelling in different parts of the body, usually the arms and legs.

Severe cases of oedema can also occur in other places such as the brain, eyes and lungs.


What Causes Edema?

Oedema can be caused by many things from a change in the environment, like say, a pressure change when flying to changes in hormone levels due to the menstrual cycle and pregnancy. Abnormal fluid retention can be due to a high sodium level diet or even genetics.

Medication can also be a factor in causing oedema. Water retention can be a side effect of medication for diabetes, high blood pressure, painkillers and anti-depressants. Meanwhile, certain medical conditions, such as diabetes and kidney disease, may also influence the body’s ability to regulate excess fluids.

Because many factors can cause oedema, there are several types of this condition, from mild to severe.


Types of Edema

The type of oedema is based on the location of the water retention on the body.


Pedal Edema

This refers to fluid retention in the feet, ankles and legs. This is a common type of oedema that is non-life-threatening and is related to dependent oedema – water retention due to gravity and can happen in various parts of the body.

This can be caused by menopause or a side effect of medication. However, leg swelling may be an indication of more serious conditions such as deep vein thrombosis, congestive heart failure or liver cirrhosis.

Periorbital Edema

This type of oedema is fluid retention around the eyes and is a common condition after waking up. It disappears on its own after a while. Infections, injuries and allergies may also cause periorbital oedema.  

Cerebral Edema

This is water retention in the brain and is the result of head trauma, stroke, hypoxia, brain tumours, surgery and a complication of diabetes known as diabetic ketoacidosis. It causes heavy swelling in the brain that obstructs the blood vessels that is responsible for delivering oxygen and nutrients to the brain. It can result in permanent and fatal damage to brain tissues.

Macular Edema

Macular Edema refers to leakage of fluid from the blood vessels near the macula, the centre part of the retina which is responsible for central vision, colour vision and fine details. When water retention happens in the eyes, it affects the sharpness and the colour of what we see.

This can leave us with blurry vision, faded colours as well as vision loss. It can be caused by inflammation in the eyes, eye surgery and macular degeneration due to age. It can also be caused by a severe complication of diabetes called Diabetic retinopathy that can lead to permanent blindness.


Pulmonary Edema

This is fluid retention in the tissue and air spaces of the lungs which may cause discomforts such as difficulty breathing, restlessness and fatigue. This is caused by heart disorders, altitude sickness, chest trauma and pneumonia.  Chronic pulmonary oedema may be uncomfortable but not life-threatening while a sudden acute pulmonary oedema can be deadly and require medical attention.  



This is fluid retention located in the abdominal cavity, particularly the peritoneal cavity. This can cause discomfort and pain as well as increase the risk of infections and hernias in the abdomen. It may also spread to other parts such as the legs and the chest.

It is a common complication of liver cirrhosis as well as cancer, heart disease, dialysis and protein deficiency. Bloating, sense of feeling full, nausea, weight gain and indigestion are symptoms of Ascites.



Anasarca is the most severe form of oedema and occurs in critical stages such as iron deficiency anaemia as well as organ failure of the heart, kidney or liver. It may also be a side effect of steroids. 

In Anasarca, the body’s ability to regulate and maintain water balance is disrupted or lost. It occurs with multiple types of oedema where fluids are retained in a layer of the skin which results in oedema that is spread throughout the body.


Diagnosis for Edema

If you noticed mild swelling that persists, inform your doctor immediately. Seek urgent medical attention if you experience signs of more severe types of oedema such as sudden heaviness, swelling, chest and abdominal pain.

A medical professional will look through your medical history and conduct a physical examination. They may use ultrasound, Computer Tomography (CT) scan and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to detect Edema. Other tests such as urine and blood tests may be carried out to check for signs of underlying medical conditions like infections, dysfunctional organs or cancer.


Treatment for Edema

Although mild oedema disappears on its own, persisting oedema that causes discomfort may be prescribed with various medications to reduce water retention. The following are common medications prescribed for oedema:

  • Diuretics help expel fluid as urine

  • Albumin is used to treat oedema caused by protein deficiency and restores water-protein levels in the bloodstream to lessen the leakage of fluid.

  • Steroids help treat oedema caused by an allergic reaction and medication. Your doctor will most likely recommend you to limit exposure to the allergen or stop the use of the medication.    


Some lifestyle dietary changes can also reduce water retention. This involves monitoring the consumption of fluid and reducing salt intake.

To manage severe oedema, long term treatment is required as it is most likely a symptom of an underlying medical condition.


How To Reduce Water Retention

There are common types of mild water retention that many have experienced, whether it’s waking up with puffy eyes or feeling heavy after a long flight. To others, it may be more frequent, as a consequence of health conditions or genetics. There are ways to prevent water retention through changes in lifestyle and diet that can minimize excess fluid retention in our body.  


Regular Movement and Elevation

Pedal oedema is one of the most common types of oedema and can be experienced if we sit and stand still for long periods of time. Gravity pools fluids to the parts of the body closest to the ground causing swelling. This is known as dependent oedema and can be avoided by moving more which promotes blood circulation.

Standing to stretch or pace after a prolonged period spent at a desk is a good way to avoid dependent oedema. You can also elevate your feet using a stool. Elevation prevents the accumulation of fluid in your legs.

You can also incorporate regular exercise into your routine. Increasing your level of fitness improves your circulatory system and reduces the likelihood of developing oedema.


Massage and Compression

Massaging improves the body’s circulation. Applying gentle pressure to various parts of the body in the direction of your heart will help direct fluids back towards the heart, this prevents the accumulation of fluids in just one area of the body.

Wearing compression garments such as support stockings or support hose can also apply pressure and is particularly useful to prevent oedema during long flights. Pressure change and sitting still for a long period during flight causes fluid to accumulate in the lower body, particularly in the buttocks and legs. Compression garments provide support and reduce pressure difference. This lowers the chances of oedema forming.


Watch Your Diet

Water regulation depends on the heart, liver and kidneys. Problems with these organs can increase the likelihood of developing oedema. As such it is important to keep them healthy and maintaining a healthy diet improves their function in regulating the water balance or osmotic balance in our bodies.

Avoiding smoking and consuming large amounts of alcohol are ways to avoid damage to organs which leads to poor organ function. The same goes for eating too much processed food.

A high protein and low sodium diet is a good way to maintain the water balance in our body. Too much sodium increases water retention and so should be avoided, especially by those who are more prone to developing oedema. Meanwhile, our body needs protein to make albumin, a protein in the blood that prevents water from escaping and accumulating in the surrounding tissues.  


Take Supplements

Before taking any supplements, it is important to consult your doctor as certain supplements may interact with the medication you’re already taking. That said, supplements can support your organ functions and prevent deficiencies.

The body cannot produce zinc but it is necessary for protein synthesis and in maintaining healthy albumin levels in the blood. Taking a zinc supplement can help avoid deficiency which is linked to oedema.

You may also take magnesium and vitamin B6 supplements to alleviate water retention and premenstrual syndrome symptoms in women.


18 Ways to Reduce Water Retention

1. Reduce Salt Consumption

Keeping an eye on your sodium levels is important in maintaining healthy levels of fluid inside your body. Salt in sodium makes the body retain water and so increases the chances of developing oedema.

Reduce salt consumption by avoiding processed foods that are high in salt. When cooking, you can also replace salt with other spices that can add flavour to your food.

2. Avoid Eating Refined Carbohydrates

Rapid spikes in insulin and blood sugar levels can occur after eating too many refined carbohydrates such as white flour, white bread, pasta or pastries. High insulin levels cause the body, particularly the kidney to take in more sodium and thus increase the chances of oedema.

Along with a low salt diet, you can also consider moderate consumption of refined carbohydrates. You can even try substituting it with complex carbohydrates such as brown rice and whole-grain alternatives. These changes will help maintain a healthy water balance in your body.

 3. Take Caffeine Supplements or Drink Tea and Coffee

Caffeine has diuretic effects so consuming beverages such as tea and coffee as well as supplements with caffeine helps decrease water weight.  

4. Increase Magnesium Consumption

Magnesium found in nuts, whole grains, dark chocolate and vegetables helps reduce water retention in women during their menstrual cycle. Alternatively, you may also take magnesium supplements.

5. Increase Your Vitamin B6 Consumption

Vitamin B6 also reduces water retention in women with premenstrual symptoms. You may add food rich in Vitamin B6 such as fish, potatoes and starchy vegetables in your diet or consider taking supplements that contain vitamin B6.

6. Increase Your Potassium Consumption

Potassium lowers sodium levels and encourages urine production, thus aiding in reducing water retention in your body. Bananas, avocados, sweet potatoes and spinach are all food that you can include in your diet to increase your potassium consumption.

7. Consume Natural Diuretics

There are natural diuretics such as green tea and black tea that can help the body relieve water by passing urine.

8. Get Active

A sedentary lifestyle is bad for overall health and can increase the likelihood of water retention. Fluid can accumulate in your legs if you sit or stand still for most of the day. Improve blood flow by incorporating move activity in your day through walking, stretching or exercising.

9. Sleep More

A full night’s rest helps the body maintain balance, control hydration levels and minimize water retention.

10. Wear Compression Leggings

Compression garments help apply pressure and prevent fluid from accumulating in your legs.

11. Elevate Your Feet

Using a stool to elevate your feet will lessen the chances of water retention in your legs due to gravity. It helps reduce swollen feet by allowing fluids to move up your body.  

12. Drink More Water

Dehydration causes the body to retain more water as it senses the deficit. Increasing your water intake will help avoid this and reduce water retention.

13. Weight Management

Obesity can lead to poor circulation and thus lead to water retention, especially in the lower parts of your body. Swollen ankles and pain in your feet may lead to a more sedentary lifestyle which exacerbates swelling. Making healthy lifestyle changes such as exercise and a healthy diet can help manage weight. Consult a professional to receive advice on how to lose weight safely and sustainably.

14. Get a Massage

Applying pressure through massages is a great way to reduce swelling and push fluid away. It can help relieve water retention as well as provide relaxation and physical relief from pain.

15. Try Yoga

Staying active through yoga is a great way to reduce oedema. Yoga can help improve circulation and get you moving without having to leave the house or do cardio. Studies even show it helps reduce water retention for women with premenstrual syndrome.

16. Ask for Prescription Diuretics

If changes to your lifestyle end diet are not helping reduce water retention, you can consult your doctor, They may prescribe you diuretics such as thiazide, loop and sparing diuretics. These are designed to expel water and salt in your body through urine.

17. Review Your Medication,

Your current medication may be the cause of your oedema. High blood pressure medication and painkillers like ibuprofen and even antidepressants are known to have water retention as a side effect.  

18. Get Support

It takes time to manage your water balance through changes in lifestyle and diet. Having the support of your doctors and health professionals will help you on your journey and will make you feel less alone. Your family and friends can also encourage you and may even join you in the new physical activities you are trying.



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