Guide To Treatment For Water & Fluid Retention

Treating Water Retention

The treatment of edema (swelling caused by fluid retention) should be directed at the underlying cause, following careful diagnosis. Treatment options will also vary according to the severity of the symptoms. For example, pulmonary edema is a potentially life-threatening condition and needs immediate treatment. This is because excess fluid in the lungs adversely affects the transfer of oxygen from the lungs to the bloodstream. Pulmonary edema commonly requires supplemental oxygen, mechanical ventilation (eg. a respirator which forces air into the lungs), and several medications. Edema and fluid retention caused by hypothyroidism can only be relieved by treating the thyroid malfunction with thyroxine. Other, milder forms of edema caused by water retention unrelated to specific medical conditions may be treated differently. Here is a short outline of some treatment options.

Reduction Of Sodium Intake For All Edema Patients

Sodium induces water retention. Thus sodium reduction is an obvious treatment. Patients with edema are generally encouraged to lower their intake of sodium, by reducing the amount of salt in their diet. Dietitians advise patients to stop adding salt to food when cooking, or when eating. And to avoid foods like salted snackfoods, packet or canned soups, soy sauce and processed foods, all of which tend to contain ‘hidden’ salt. How much sodium should edema sufferers consume? One leading expert recommends women to reduce their daily sodium intake to 1,000 milligrams. (Normal Sodium RDA is 3,500 milligrams).

Exercise Can Help Reduce Water Retention

Physical exercise helps tp widen blood vessels. This leads to an increase in the amount of fluid that goes to the kidneys to be excreted. How much exercise helps to reduce fluid retention? A thirty minute workout or brisk walk, three times a week should help your body to let go of excess water.

Diuretics To Boost Fluid Excretion

Diuretics induce the kidneys to excrete more water and sodium, thus reducing fluid volume throughout the body. However, since fluid removal decreases the blood volume and may cause an unhealthy reduction in blood pressure, the use of diuretics should be medically supervised. The principal diuretics used to treat edema include: loop diuretics (eg. furosemide, Lasix®), and potassium sparing diuretics (eg. spironalactone). While diuretics may help to improve many types of edema, they are not univerally appropriate. For example, they do not benefit edema resulting from venous insufficiency or during pregnancy, where typically fluid retention is normal. Note: If you want a natural diuretic to help your cells get rid of extra water, try pink grapefruit juice, cranberry juice or some lemon in water.

Warning: Over-the-counter diuretics may claim to offer fast treatment for water retention, but note that they may also lead to a loss of potassium from your system thus triggering side effects like weakness, heart palpitations and raised blood sugar levels.


Taking supplements to reduce edema is generally a less effective treatment, although may be beneficial for milder forms of fluid retention. Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is believed to cause relief, as is Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid). Some reduction in edema caused by PMS or the menstrual cycle may be obtained by taking supplements of calcium, magnesium, manganese, evening primrose oil and chaste tree. Note: In a 1992 study of ten women at the Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center, it was shown that subjects who took a daily supplement of 1,336 milligrams of calcium a day had fewer water retention and other PMS symptoms. A 1990 New York study found that 33 women who took 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily experienced a 50 percent reduction in bloating.

Eat Little And Often To Maintain Healthy Blood Sugar Levels

For women who experience water retention in the days before menstruation, dietitians typically recommend small meals or snacks spaced about three hours apart. These meals should be rich in starchy foods like breads, crackers, pasta, cereals, potatoes and rice (note: wholegrain varieties are best). This type of eating maintains steady blood sugar levels and prevents the body from taking stored sugar out of the cells and replacing it with extra water. Drinking plenty of water also helps reduce fluid retention. A well-hydrated body is less likely to retain extra water.

Re-Positioning Of The Extremities

Edema in the legs, ankles, and feet can be improved by elevating the legs above heart level for 30 minutes, four times a day. This type of leg elevation may itself suffice to treat patients with mild venous insufficiency, although not the more severe forms.

Compression Stockings

Fluid retention and swelling in the legs may also be improved by wearing compression stockings. Compression stockings that apply differing degrees of pressure are most suitable, with the greatest pressure being applied at the ankle.