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What is water retention and how to treat it

Fluid retention is a very common problem in women and can cause your belly to swell and even lead to cellulite, however it can also be more severe and cause swollen legs and feet. Hormonal changes, sedentary lifestyle, salt consumption, and over-industrialized products are among the most common causes.

Treatment to fight excess fluid can be done naturally by ingesting more water, using diuretic teas and practicing exercise. Resorting to lymphatic drainage is also a great strategy to supplement natural treatment, but when retention is severe it may be necessary to take diuretic medication especially if it is caused by a kidney or heart disease, for example.

The accumulation of fluid in the body can cause swelling, which can be easily noticed, by increasing abdominal volume, the face, and especially in the legs, ankles and feet. Pressing your thumb for 5 seconds on the region near your ankles and then observing if the region is marked is an easy way to find out that you are holding liquids. The ankle sock mark or the tight fitting waistband mark also serve as a parameter to assess whether the person is holding fluid.

What is water retention and how to treat it

Treatment for water retention

To fight water retention it is recommended to drink specific types of tea, do regular exercise, take care of your diet and follow other cautions. If that doesn't work, it is best to seek the attention of a doctor, so he can indicate the use of a diuretic medication.

Below, are some of the most used treatments:

1. Drink teas that fight water retention 

To fight fluid retention it is recommended you drink teas with diuretic effects like:

  • Horsetail,
  • Hibiscus;
  • Cinnamon with ginger;
  • Green tea;
  • Ginkgo biloba;
  • Parsley;
  • Asian spark;
  • Indian chestnut.

However, all types of tea have some kind of diuretic effect, because, basically, the more water a person ingests, the more urine will be eliminated. This urine will be full of toxins and will also carry excess body fluids. However, certain plants increase this diuretic effect, such as the ones indicated above.

2. Do exercises to fight swelling

Practicing exercises is also a great natural and quick way to reduce body swelling. The contraction of large muscle groups like arms, legs and buttocks forces the excess fluid to be eliminated through the urine. Therefore, it is common to feel like urinating after 1 hour of exercise in the gym, for example.

Some of the most indicated exercises are fast walking, jogging, cycling with a heavy gait and jumping rope, for example. The localized exercises are not as beneficial as these, but may be an option after about 20 minutes of aerobic activity, for example.

3. Follow general tips for reducing swelling

Some os the most important cautions for treating water retention are:

  • Drink more water, about 2 liters a day. Tea is also an option;
  • Replace salt, for preparing or seasoning, by herbs. Some great options are parsley or oregano, for example. Decreasing the amount of salt you ingest each day is crucial;
  • Increase the consumption of diuretic foods, such as watermelon, cucumber or tomato;
  • Avoid foods such as canned, sausage or other foods that are industrialized or have too much salt;
  • Avoid standing for too long. You should also avoid sitting with your legs crossed;
  • Eat high-water foods such as radish, turnip, cauliflower, watermelon, strawberry, melon, pineapple, apple or carrot;
  • Do lymphatic drainage, which is a specific massage to reduce excess fluid in the body;
  • Eat foods like baked beetroot, avocado, low-fat yogurt, orange juice or banana since they are rich in potassium, which helps to decrease the body's salt levels;
  • Put your legs up at the end of the day.

Squeezing 1 lemon into 1 liter of water and drinking it throughout the day without sugar is also an excellent strategy to decrease swelling faster, which in turn decreases abdominal volume quickly.

What is water retention and how to treat it

4. Lymphatic drainage

Lymphatic drainage is a great strategy to eliminate excess fluid from the body, it can be done manually, as a kind of gentle massage and with well-marked movements, but can also be performed with equipment for mechanical lymphatic drainage, being called pressotherapy.

These treatments can be performed in specialized aesthetic clinics, with sessions ranging from 3 to 5 times a week, depending on the need of each person. Each session lasts about 45 to 60 minutes and then the person should feel the need to urinate, which indicates that the treatment had the expected effect. Lymphatic drainage is a good complement to the treatment used to fight cellulite, and it is indicated after treatments such as radiofrequency and lipocavitation, for example.

5. Diuretic medication

Diuretic medication such as Furosemide, Hydrochlorothiazide, or Aldactone may also be used for retention treatment, which should only be used when prescribed by a doctor. This is important because there are different types of diuretic medication that are more or less indicated according to the cause of the retention. Some are indicated for the heart, and can only be used by people with heart problems. See other examples of diuretic medications your doctor can indicate.

How to deal with fluid retention during pregnancy

Swelling is normal during pregnancy because of the hormonal changes that occur. Swelling can happen at any stage, but it mostly occurs at the 2nd and the 3rd trimester of pregnancy, when the woman feels more tired and less willing to walk or do physical exercises.

What to do: Using compression stockings on your legs and feet is an excellent strategy, but it should be put on before getting out of bed. The pregnant woman should also reduce the intake of salt and industrialized products, rich in sodium, and drink plenty of water and teas, such as parsley, which also fight urinary tract infections that are common in pregnancy.

What can cause fluid retention

The main causes for water retention are:

  • Diet rich in salt and sodium;
  • Low water intake or clear liquids, such as teas;
  • Pregnancy;
  • Staying a long time in the same position, sitting or standing;
  • Heart problems;
  • Use of certain medication;
  • Lack of physical activity;
  • Kidney disease;
  • Hepatic cirrhosis
  • Changes in thyroid function.

Water retention occurs when blood reaches the legs but has difficulty returning to the heart, resulting in a large outflow of fluid from the blood into the interstitial environment, which is the space between the cells, generating edema.

You should call your doctor if you gain 2 kg (about 5 lbs) or more in 4 days.


  • PUJOL, A.P. Nutrição aplicada à estética. Rio de Janeiro: Rubio, 2011.
  • MCINTYRE, A. Guia completo da fitoterapia. São Paulo: Pensamento, 2011.
  • LEDUC, Albert; LEDUC, Olivier.. Drenagem Linfática: Teoria e prática. 3ª edição. São Paulo: Manole, 2007.
  • SANTANA, Juan Carlos. Treinamento Funcional: programa de exercícios para treinamento e desempenho. 1.ed. São Paulo: Manole, 2017.
  • HARVARD HEALTH PUBLISHING. Fluid retention: What it can mean for your heart. 2014. Link: <www.health.harvard.edu>. Access in 16 Apr 2019
  • HEALTHDIRECT AUSTRALIA. Fluid retention. 2018. Link: <www.healthdirect.gov.au>. Access in 16 Apr 2019
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