Feeling bloated? Here's 9 reasons for water retention - and how you can get rid of it

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9 really common causes of water retentionKlaus Vedfelt - Getty Images

Bloating–whether it's after a particularly bountiful dinner with pals or around the time of your period–is pretty much par for the course in this life. If, however, you are dealing with the sensation persistently, then you might want to know what's causing it, and how to fix it. One possible explanation is water retention.

How do you get rid of water retention, fast?

Well, it's not that simple. First, scroll on to find out what type of water retention you might have, and then follow the advice for nixing it.

What are the signs of water retention?

Common signs of retaining water are:

  • You're persistently bloated

  • You're experiencing unexplained weight gain over a short period of time

  • Your hands and feet are swollen – do your rings no longer fit for, example?

⚠️ If your water retention hasn't settled down within two weeks, continues beyond three to five weeks, or is accompanied by other symptoms such as pain and redness of the skin, Dr Riccardo Di Cuffa, a GP, advises visiting your doctor.

What causes you to retain water?

Straight up, fluid retention could be a result of a number of things. Keep scrolling for nine possible causes.

9 unknown (yet common) causes of water retention

1. Your 'healthy' lifestyle is a little off

When was the last time you made every meal in the week from scratch? Be honest. If you are regularly hitting that target – kudos to you.

But for most of you, chances are, a sneaky vegan ready made meal or takeaway creeps its way in. ‘Convenience foods are a godsend,’ says registered nutritional therapist Kym Lang.

‘But the salt they contain can make your body hang onto water to maintain a balance in your cells: hence that bloated face in the mirror.

And you all know that white refined carbs make your blood sugar levels spike, which causes a speedy release of insulin. But too much insulin can also trigger your kidneys to re-absorb salt, causing your body to hold onto even more fluid.’

Should I visit my doctor for this water retention?

Yes. A high-salt diet can increase your chances of high blood pressure and chronic water retention, which, over time could lead to kidney and heart disease. Lang suggests swapping in complex carbs and eating small meals across the day to keep blood sugar levels stable.

And going easy on the salt. ‘Boost flavour with herbs, spices and citrus,’ she says.

2. It's almost your period

Water retention in the time leading up to your period is super normal. ‘Many women will notice water retention in the two weeks leading up to their period,’ says registered nutritional therapist Kym Lang. You’ve those pesky hormones oestrogen and progesterone to thank for that.

‘Their changing levels, around the time of ovulation, control how much water your body retains,’ Lang says.

You don’t need an expert to tell you that everyone’s hormone levels are different and this is why some of you puff out each month, like clockwork, whereas others might experience a little bit of mild bloating, now and then.

Should I visit my doctor for this water retention?

No. Period-related fluid retention will gradually disperse once your hormone levels change again and you start your period.

Lang suggests reducing your salt intake and supping your magnesium in the run-up to your period to alleviate symptoms, and, when your period starts, drinking plenty of water to support your kidneys and encourage them to flush out more liquid. You could also try these other tips for preventing period weight gain.

3. You use a hormonal contraception

It may help keep you regular but chances are that pill your on is also responsible for your monthly bloat. According to Dr Di Cuffa, many contraceptives offer water retention as a side effect – how kind of them – and it all comes back down to hormones.

‘Oestrogen and progesterone affect your body’s ability to excrete water meaning you temporarily gain what is essentially a water weight,’ says Dr Di Cuffa. ‘That should normalise when your period starts.’

Should I visit my doctor for this water retention?

No. It’s just a bit of a nuisance. And not something to consider coming off the pill for. Fill up on foods containing vitamin B6, which are thought to help reduce water retention – a bowl of porridge topped with a banana should get you off to a flying start, says Lang.

Then when your period strikes, switch to a low-bloat bowl of Bircher muesli, instead.

4. You're pregnant

Who hasn’t heard a pregnant friend complain about swelling in their legs and ankles during pregnancy? It’s part of the course, right? ‘Water retention during pregnancy – and water retention in your legs – is perfectly normal, says Lang. ‘It helps your body to soften and expand as your baby grows.’

It’s also the result of the baby itself. According to Dr Di Cuffa, the unborn child places additional pressure on the abdominal area, obstructing the blood flow around the body and leading to pooling in the ankles and legs.

Should I visit my doctor for this water retention?

Not really, but take it as a warning sign to elevate those legs when you’re sitting down or sleeping, or to go for a gentle swim.

‘Muscle contractions stimulate your blood and lymph vessel walls to contract rhythmically, boosting lymph flow and the return of blood to the heart,’ says Georgios Tzenichristos, nutritionist and director of the LipoTherapeia clinic.

5. You're showing symptoms of menopause

‘Hormone levels fluctuate dramatically around the time of the peri-menopause, making fluid retention more likely and more frequent,’ says Lang.

‘You’re even more susceptible if you experienced water retention or other PMS symptoms when you were younger.’

Should I visit my doctor for this water retention?

If you’re showing other menopause symptoms, then it’s worth getting yourself checked out as there are treatments available. If it turns out you’re experiencing monster PMS symptoms, this might help.

6. You've been on a long-haul flight

It’s the reason so many of you like to travel in your gym kit – who wants the discomfort of tight jeans after take-off? It’s partly the result of all that sitting down – exercise is essential for lymph function – but it could also be that a change in your routine and diet means your bowels aren’t moving quite as they should.

‘Constipation obstructs blood and lymph flow in the abdominal area leading to swollen ankles and legs,’ Tzenichristos says.

Should I visit my doctor for this water retention?

No. It shouldn’t be but it’s why it’s always best to bag an aisle seat. Ankle rolls, flexing your feet, pointing your toes and regularly walking around the plane will all help to increase circulation and reduce swelling.

And if you can, swerve that glass of Sauvignon Blanc for an orange juice – vitamin C supports your blood vessels and improves their contractions says Tzenichristos.

7. You've got a problem with your kidneys

Kidneys are like little recycling plants. While you’re busy enjoying Happy Hour, they’re filtering your blood, sorting out the bits (think fluids and minerals) in it that can be reused by the body, from those that need to be excreted as waste.

So, if they stop functioning properly, the waste – which will also include water – will build up, leading to water retention.

Should I visit my doctor for this water retention?

Yes, according to Dr Di Cuffa, this could be a warning sign of kidney failure, which is often symptomless until the advanced stages. Watch out for other giveaways such as anaemia, an increased need to pee, difficulty sleeping, muscle cramps, headaches and unexplained weight loss.

8. Your thyroid is out of whack

Your thyroid plays a key role in keeping your energy levels up. So, if it goes a little haywire – something which is typically caused by your immune system accidentally attacking it – you’re going to start feeling tired, headache-y and continuously cold. You also may experience heavy periods and, you guessed it, fluid retention.

Should I visit my doctor for this water retention?

Yes. Best get checked. Left untreated, an under-active thyroid could lead to heart disease, pregnancy problems and, if the gland swells, difficulty breathing.

9. There's been a change in temperature

It’s not your imagination that the body swells during hot weather – it does. And normally on the day when you're about to strip off and already feeling a tad anxious.

Should I visit my doctor for this water retention?

Obviously, no. The solution – drink more and cool down. ‘If you’re dehydrated, your tissues hold on to water due to the water scarcity,’ Tzenichristos says.

It also happens if you have too many iced lattes. ‘Excessive caffeine leads to poor fluid drainage and water retention,’ says Tzenichristos.

‘Switch to a diuretic herbal tea, such as dandelion leaf tea, or simply water. Alternating hot and cold temperatures in the shower will also help to boost circulation.’

How long does water retention last?

Water retention can last from anywhere to a couple of day to a couple of weeks, depending on what's causing it. But, if your water retention hasn't settled down within two weeks, or continues beyond three to five weeks, you should speak to your GP or seek medical advice.

When should you worry about water retention?

Wondering if your water retention is serious? A lot of the time, water retention is linked to an irritating but not-too-serious cause. However, if you identify with any of the reasons to visit your doctor, above, then book in to see your GP or call 111.

Generally speaking, if you ever have trouble breathing or chest pain - which can sometimes be linked to fluid retention - then seek immediate medical care.

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