Signs of Body Water Retention

Updated July 18, 2017

Body water retention, medically known as oedema, happens when there is excess fluid within the tissues of your body. Caused by many factors ranging from pregnancy to eating too much salty food, says the Mayo Clinic, the signs of body water retention are easy to spot--if you know what you're looking for. Identifying and understanding the signs of body water retention are essential to opening a possible dialogue with your doctor about your overall health.


A major sign of retention of the body's water is swelling. This usually occurs in extremities such as hands, feet, legs and arms. Oedema-induced swelling can also show up in the face as excessive puffiness in the eye area or cheeks.

While swelling in the extremities due to water retention may not always be life-threatening, especially if it occurs only in places such as the hands and feet, it can be very painful and poses risks of tissue scarring, stretch marks and ulceration (skin breakdown), states the Mayo Clinic. If you notice any swelling in these areas, especially if it is sudden and accompanied by pain, it is crucial to seek your doctor's advice for treatment.

Abdominal Size

An increase in the size of the abdomen, or stomach area, is another sign of water retention in the body. The skin of the abdomen may appear stretched or shiny and also may be accompanied by pain in the affected area. The stomach may have a "bloated" feeling.

Although bloating and abdominal swelling are common signs of oedema due to pregnancy or female hormonal cycles, they should not be treated lightly. Any increase in abdominal size due to the body's retention of water is also a matter to talk to your doctor about.

Serious Signs to Look Out For

Other more serious signs of body water retention should be treated as emergencies, according to These are serious oedema symptoms that can indicate other health problems, such as hormone changes and cancer. Major signs of fluid retention to look out for include difficulty urinating, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat or a sudden and persistent weight gain.

Chest pain and difficulty breathing are especially serious symptoms to look out for, says the Mayo Clinic. These can indicate a condition called pulmonary oedema, or fluid retention in the lungs. Pulmonary oedema can be life-threatening, so if the signs are present, don't wait--call the emergency services for you or your loved one immediately.

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