What is water retention in the body? Know everything about it

Do you feel bloated all the time? That heaviness inside your stomach that makes you uncomfortable. Just so you know that feeling of heaviness may not always be fat. It may also be water. 

Brushing up the body basics we learnt in school, do you know your body is 60-70% water? Your body stores water for its essential purposes and also as a safety net. However, sometimes it holds on to water more than needed. This is called water retention. It is a common health problem among people. 

Today, we will be learning more about water retention in the body and why excess water retention is bad for the body. 

What does water retention indicate? 

First things first, you must understand that water retention happens when the body fails to maintain ideal fluid levels. Hence, it may cause swelling and discomfort. This may happen due to a lot of serious or non-serious issues (we will be discussing them shortly).

The lymphatic system, hormones and kidneys maintain healthy water levels in the body. If there is an issue with these organs, water retention may happen. This may be serious and result in various complications such as kidney failure and even heart failure. 

Water retention when it is serious 

Kidney disease: 

One of the main functions of the kidney is to filter the blood and maintain water levels in the body. The tubules are the kidney’s filters, through which waste and other substances pass. If your kidneys don’t work as they should, they fail to discard waste material, including fluids. Hence, these fluids may stay in the body. Water retention in serious conditions may point to kidney disease. 

Congestive heart failure 

The heart pumps blood, which helps regulate the normal pressure required within the blood vessels. The blood pressure will change if the heart doesn’t function as it should. This may cause fluid retention. 

The lymphatic system 

You must know that white blood cells (WBC) are carried by lymph, which is a fluid in the lymphatic system. As the lymphatic system transports and reabsorbs lymphatic fluid, it helps maintain fluid balance in the body. However, when there is an issue with the lymphatic system, fluid may build up in the body. 

Water retention caused by lifestyle factors

It’s not always that water retention is caused by serious health issues. Sometimes, it can be caused by many lifestyle factors, including diet and inactivity. 


Pregnancy also causes water retention in the body, to provide water and nutrients to the foetus. In this case, the water retention will reverse after the delivery. However, when you observe an unusual level of bloating, it may indicate pre-eclampsia.

Lack of physical activity

If you barely walk throughout the day, your sedentary lifestyle may be the culprit. It can cause water retention in the body. Consequently, you may experience swelling in the legs as the calf muscle loses its strength due to inactivity. 


Sodium plays an important role in maintaining healthy fluid levels in the body. When you consume an excess amount of sodium, it may cause fluid imbalance in the body. 

You’re on a flight 

Did you know water retention is also common when you are on a flight? The fluctuations in cabin pressure and sitting for a longer period may cause water retention.


Your periods cause an increase in the production of a hormone called progesterone, which further activates aldosterone, which makes the kidneys retain more salt and water. 

Closing thoughts 

While occasional mild water retention is normal, chronic or severe cases may indicate underlying medical conditions that require attention. Adopting a balanced diet, staying hydrated, engaging in regular physical activity, and minimising sodium intake are key strategies to help regulate water balance. It is advisable to consult with a healthcare professional if you observe persistent or unusual water retention. Unusual water retention can cause swelling in various parts of the body. If you observe it, you must seek medical advice.

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