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Fluid Retention

In this Section:

Your body has a set point for fluid. It will restore itself to it's usual set point of fluid within 48 hours of taking in extra under normal circumstances.

Exceptions to this rule are:

  • Before your period. You can gain from 2-10 lb. of fluid before or during your period.
  • When water balance is off due to prolonged dehydration or purging behaviors such as vomiting, laxative or diuretic abuse.
  • When you have an inadequate protein intake in your diet. When the protein level in your blood goes too low, the colloidal osmotic pressure will decrease and allow fluid to escape into your tissues and cause edema - swelling of the hands, feet, ankles, knees, and belly.
  • Semi-starvation can cause edema
  • Excessive alcohol intake can cause edema
  • When you have prolonged excessive water intake. Excessive fluid intake can be dangerous because:
    1. It can dilute the electrolytes in your blood and cause a low sodium in the blood.
    2. Excessive urination can flush out electrolytes, minerals, etc. Symptoms of fluid overload include a gradual mental dulling, drowsiness, weakness, confusion, coma, convulsions and death.

When you repeatedly take laxatives, diuretics or vomit, your body will adapt to being constantly dehydrated by learning to retain more fluid than usual. When you stop these behaviors and start to take a normal diet, your body may continue to retain fluids until it learns that adequate fluid will be available, then it will release the extra fluid. People who abuse laxatives or vomit regularly are at the greatest risk for alternating between dehydration and edema.

It may take from 2 to 6 weeks following long term dehydration for your body to get used to being normally hydrated again and flush out the extra fluid it has been retaining.

People with eating disorders may interpret the puffiness of edema or any changes on the scale as weight gain or getting "fat" and may panic and purge or take laxatives even more.