Excess fluid in the hands, arms, ankles, feet, legs, and other can cause edema — the swelling of tissues. There could be many reasons behind this, from poor nutrition to certain diseases. In this article, we explore the common causes of edema and tips to ease and manage it.
What is water weight?
Edema is a medical term often referred to simply as water weight by the general public. There are different types of edema; the most common, peripheral edema, can be caused by old age, injuries, diseases, and poor nutrition. Other types, such as lymphedema, ascites (edema of abdomen), and pulmonary edema (edema of lungs), can be more serious. It is imperative to consult a doctor and seek proper treatment if edema gets worse.
10 ways to lose water weight
Edema can be caused by poor nutrition, lack of physical activity, menstrual cycle, pregnancy, medications, injury, and disease. Therefore, you can ease edema if the causes are the ones that are manageable at home, such as salt intake, physical activity, and so on. If not, such as in case of medication use, injury, and diseases, you should see your doctor for proper treatment.
Here are 10 ways to ease edema at home:
Sitting or standing still can worsen edema; doing gentle exercises or walking can improve blood flow and reduce it.
A study evaluated the effects of exercise on edema with various etiologies. An exercise program was given to 24 participants, with edema assessed before and after the exercise. The results showed a significant reduction of edema in lower limbs.
2. Weight loss
Edema can be seen in people with obesity, as being overweight can cause edema. A study showed that 30% of obese participants had edema in their legs, which can result from bad lymphatic function and circulation.
Losing weight can ease edema in the long term. If you're overweight, consult your dietitian and doctor for a weight loss nutrition program.
3. Don't get fooled by detox recipes
There is no detox recipe scientifically proven to resolve edema. Although some medicinal plants have been shown to reduce it, the evidence on their efficacy is lacking.
Instead of drinking a detox recipe with no scientific backing, you can eat fruits and vegetables that contain hundreds of bioactive compounds that may support reducing fluid retention through antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
4. Stick to a healthy and balanced diet
Edema can be caused by nutrient deficiencies, too. Eating a healthy and balanced diet can help your body ease edema by providing energy and essential nutrients.
Blood protein, specifically albumin, plays a crucial role in retaining sodium and water, preventing fluid leaks between tissues. Malnutrition, particularly prevalent in older individuals and those with certain diseases, can lead to reduced blood protein levels.
5. Reduce sodium intake
A study investigated whether daily salt intake changes leg edema in 56 men with prostate-related health conditions. The study found that when daily salt intake increased, leg edema worsened, too.
Sodium promotes water retention, which worsens edema. Thus, reducing sodium intake can alleviate its symptoms. A low-sodium diet entails consuming no more than 2,300 mg of sodium, equivalent to one teaspoon of salt.
6. Limit processed foods
Read the labels for processed products, which are usually high in sodium. Also, spice blends can be high in sodium, which is generally overlooked. Therefore, reading labels helps identify sodium content in whatever food you buy.
7. Stay hydrated
Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Dehydration can worsen edema because your body will increase water retention if there isn't enough of it.
If you have disease-related edema, your doctor may restrict either or both fluid and salt intake.
8. Avoid alcohol
A case study showed that alcohol dependency can cause peripheral edema, especially if there is a combination of disease and alcohol abuse. Alcohol abuse can cause a deficiency of thiamine (vitamin B1), which has been associated with peripheral edema.
Alcohol causes dehydration and nutrient loss, which can worsen edema. Thus, you should avoid alcohol until it resolves.
9. Elevate your feet
Elevating legs can improve edema of feet, ankles, and legs. You should elevate your legs above heart level; 30 minutes up to 3–4 times daily is recommended. Elevating legs can help edema by improving fluid flow back to blood vessels.
Elevating legs is recommended for most patients with chronic edema. A study investigated the potential of leg elevation on edema associated with venous disease. The study concluded that elevating limbs can improve microcirculation.
10. Try compression garments
Compression garments, such as socks and sleeves, can also improve blood flow, thus helping reduce edema.
In a study, women aged 18–23 wore compression stockings below the knee and rested for 30 minutes sitting. The results showed that compression garments positively affect leg swelling.
Why do our bodies store water?
Kidneys regulate the fluid volume of the body. Edema can arise when fluid volume increases mainly because of sodium and water retention imbalance. Many things, including travel, poor nutrition, hormonal changes, injury, and diseases, can cause disruption in fluid balance.
Problems in the lymphatic system can also cause edema, called lymphedema. Lymphatic systems drain excess fluid surrounding tissues into the bloodstream. Lymphatic systems can't effectively drain fluid in lymphedema, causing swelling around lymph nodes.
Understanding the kind of weight you are gaining
Sometimes, water weight is mixed with fat gain and vice versa. Water weight can resolve more easily when you pay attention to nutrition and physical activity. The buildup of excess water (swelling) should go away in a few days with proper nutrition and physical activity unless a condition or disease causes edema.
Also, fat gain and water gain can be differentiated by feeling and looking. In water gain, you can feel the tension swelling causes and see the puffiness and color change in the area.
If you need facts about your body composition, such as your body's fat percentage, muscle, and water, several machines can measure it. These include bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) (generally found in gyms and clinics), dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) (generally found in clinics), and anthropometric assessments via skinfold calipers. The analysis can show where you're at in terms of the ideal range of weight, fat, muscle, and water in your body.
Final words on water weight
Water gain can occasionally be experienced, especially around the menstrual cycle or when too much salt is taken. However, swelling is expected to go on its own in a few days. If you're experiencing continuous swelling and worsening, consult your doctor for proper treatment.
How long does it take to lose water weight?
Swelling is expected to go on its own in a few days if there aren't underlying causes that need to be medically treated. If edema does not resolve or worsens, consult your doctor for proper treatment.
Water weight vs. fat weight: how do I know the difference?
Edema generally feels and looks different from weight gain. Swelling causes stiffness, discomfort, puffiness, shiny and stretched skin, and sometimes changes in skin color. When edema is more apparent, dents may appear when you press in the skin.
What's the best exercise to lose water weight?
Gentle exercises and walking are recommended to enhance blood flow, which can help ease edema.
Excess water accumulation around tissue is medically called edema.
Many factors, such as old age, poor nutrition, excess salt intake, hormonal changes, obesity, injury, and diseases, can cause edema.
Edema should resolve in a few days if there isn't an underlying cause that needs to be medically treated.
If edema does not resolve in a few days or worsens, consult your doctor for proper treatment.
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- UpToDate. Patient education: low-sodium diet (beyond the basics).
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- Neurourology and Urodynamics. Daily salt intake is associated with leg edema and nocturnal urinary volume in elderly men.
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- Clinical Physiology and Functional Imaging. Acute effect of wearing compression stockings on lower leg swelling and muscle stiffness in healthy young women.
- Journal of Vascular Surgery. Effect of leg elevation on the skin microcirculation in chronic venous insufficiency.