Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment of Fluid Retention And Edema Swelling
What Is Fluid Retention?
Water from the blood commonly leaks into body tissues. Usually, this fluid is drained out of the body tissues via the lymphatic system – a network of tubes throughout the body whose function is to remove waste and other extraneous material – and returns to the bloodstream. When fluid is not removed by the lympth system, it is retained in the body tissues where it causes swelling (oedema). Edema formation typically starts when fluid leaks from the body’s smallest blood vessels, called capillaries, into the neighboring tissue. 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 retainsodium 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. Edema tends to become noticeable at this point.
Types of Fluid Retention
There are two main categories of fluid retention: generalised edema (swelling throughout the body) and localised edema (swelling in specific parts of the body). The underlying cause of a patient’s edema will frequently dictate the location of the swelling.
The most commonly affected areas for edema are:
- The Lungs (pulmonary edema)
- The Abdomen (ascites)
- The Extremities (peripheral edema)
The location of the fluid retention has an important bearing on possible health consequences. For example, while ascites and peripheral edema are uncomfortable but not serious conditions per se (although their underlying cause may be), pulmonary edema can be a serious threat to health.
What Are The Symptoms Of Water/Fluid Retention? (Edema/Oedema Symptoms)
The symptoms of fluid retention may include:
- Swelling of the skin, causing it to become stretched and shiny. This commonly occurs in the lower legs (peripheral edema) due to gravity after prolonged periods of standing, or lower back (sacral edema) which is often seen in patients who are bed-ridden. Pressing on the swollen area for a few seconds leaves a dimple in the skin (pitting edema).
- Bloated or enlarged abdomen, a common feature in ascites edema.
- Breathing difficulties, a common feature of with pulmonary edema.
- Rapid weight gain occurring in a matter of days.
- Fluctuations in body weight.
What Are The Causes Of Water/Fluid Retention? (Edema/Oedema Causes)
Water retention and accompanied swelling can be caused by a wide range of factors, including:
- Eating Too Much Salt
- Hot Weather
- Female Gender (PMS, Birth Pill, Pregnancy, Menopause)
- Nutritional Deficiencies
- Drug side effects
Alternatively, fluid retention may be a symptom of a more serious underlying medical condition. Here are the most common examples:
- Chronic venous insufficiency
- Kidney disease
- Heart failure
- Chronic lung disease
- Malignant lymphoedema
- Thyroid disease
- Allergic reactions
How To Diagnose The Cause Of Water/Fluid Retention? (Edema/Oedema Causes)
Before treating edema, the underlying cause of the oedema must be diagnosed. Common diagnostic tests to determine the most likely cause, may include:
- Questioning of the patient about the exact symptoms of fluid retention being experienced, including: when it started, where the swelling occurs in the body, whether it is constant or intermittent, aggravating factors that worsen the swelling.
- A physical examination of the patient (eg. close examination of the legs and veins in the neck).
- A review of the patient’s medical history
- Blood tests
- Urine tests
- Liver function tests
- Kidney function tests
- Chest x-ray
- Heart function tests, such as electrocardiogram (ECG).
How Is Water/Fluid Retention Treated? (Edema/Oedema Treatment)
Treatment options obviously depend on the probable cause of the edema, as well as the severity of symptoms experienced by the patient. Treatments for edema include:
- A low salt diet.
- Treatment for the underlying medical condition.
- Lifestyle changes in response to the underlying medical condition.
- Changes to medication or dosage, if the cause is drug-related.
- Dietary adjustments, if the cause is nutritional deficiency.
- Improvement in body positioning by elevating the legs.
- Use of compression stockings.