People believe that the more water we drink, the healthier we are since water makes up over 70 percent of our bodies, and we need it to survive. However, drinking too much water can be harmful if our bodies cannot handle the extra fluid volume. Read on to find out why retaining water in the body may be unhealthy for you.
Fluid Overload May Be More Harmful Than You Think
What Is Fluid Overload?
Fluid overload, also known as hypervolemia, is when the body retains an excessive amount of fluid that may cause harmful effects on health. Although our bodies have a natural ability to excrete excess fluid in urine, some people might have an underlying problem that prevents them from balancing body fluid. Fluid overload in severely ill individuals is related to increased morbidity and mortality.
Why Is Fluid Overload Harmful?
Despite the common belief that it is harmless, fluid overload is more dangerous than you think. Fluid overload causes swelling (edema) in the space between blood vessels and cells. Remember, we want the fluid to be circulating inside the vessels, not outside. This extravascular fluid retention may, in turn, cause various complications in the major organs.
In the lung, excess fluid obstructs gas exchange and reduces the lung’s ability to stretch and expand. This makes your lungs work harder, resulting in diminished oxygen content in blood and increased oxygen consumed by the respiratory muscles. This is why individuals with fluid overload may suffer from shortness of breath as the fluid gets in their lungs.
In the circulatory system, fluid overload may weaken oxygen diffusion, block blood flow, distort tissue integrity, and impair direct interactions between cells. Some major organs, like the skin, may show visible signs and symptoms of fluid overload. Still, others, like the lungs, brain, kidney, and liver, can be particularly and invisibly vulnerable.
What Causes Fluid Overload?
The direct cause of fluid overload is excessive fluid intake into the body. For example, one with fluid overload may have consumed too much water in a meal, and the body has not excreted enough fluid in urine. However, this type of fluid overload is usually not severe and can be resolved briefly with time.
Similarly, eating excessive amounts of salt may also cause fluid overload. We all know that salt consists of a large percentage of sodium, which plays a significant role in water retention. Therefore, the more we consume sodium, the more water the body needs to maintain sodium concentration.
Another possible cause of fluid overload is overusing intravenous (IV) fluid. IV therapy can be life-saving when someone is too ill to the point they cannot drink enough water. However, since IV fluids usually contain sodium, having too much of this medical practice may instead harm the body. Therefore, always consult with a doctor before taking IV fluid.
Heart failure is among the common health conditions that may cause fluid overload. If your heart becomes weakened or damaged, it does not pump blood as effectively as usual. As a result, blood, which is also a type of body fluid, cannot circulate in the body and is trapped in the vessels, leaking into the surrounding space.
Kidney failure may also be a culprit that causes fluid overload. The kidneys typically work to balance the amount of fluid and sodium in your body. Nevertheless, when your kidneys are not functioning normally, fluid can build up in the body and cause retention. Likewise, liver failure or cirrhosis can also cause fluid accumulation in your abdomen.
Fluid overload can be caused by medications that produce hormonal changes. For example, birth control pills and other hormonal medications can induce an excessive salt amount and fluid retention. Mild fluid overload can also be due to antidepressants, blood pressure medicines, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
How to Know if You Have Fluid Overload
By the time you recognize the first signs and symptoms of fluid overload on your body surface, likely, the condition’s harmful effects are simultaneously occurring inside your body. Since some internal organs with higher oxygen consumption levels cannot survive prolonged periods of reduced oxygen delivery, it is vital to know if you have fluid overload to prevent the condition from worsening.
So, what happens to you if you have fluid overload? Some signs and symptoms of fluid overload include:
- Noticeable swelling in the arms and legs
- Stomach bloating or abdominal cramps
- Unexplained and rapid weight gain
- Chest pain or high blood pressure
- Shortness of breath
How to Treat Fluid Overload
Control Water and Salt Intake
Treatment for fluid overload usually focuses on removing excess fluid from the body. This may require diuretic medication to increase the amount of water and salt excreted from the body as urine. Patients may also be advised to consume less water and reduce the amount of salt in their diet.
Treat Underlying Health Conditions
Treating fluid overload also involves resolving the underlying culprits of the condition. This means addressing heart, kidney, or liver issues and eliminating the medications that cause retention. One treatment option that may quickly restore the normal fluid balance is dialysis, which removes excess fluid by diverting blood to a machine to be cleaned.
Prevent Fluid Overload
You can also follow several strategies to prevent fluid overload from happening from the start or recurring. The first thing you may want to do is record how much fluid or salt you consume. The acceptable portion of fluid or salt intake may vary from person to person, so consult with your doctor to determine the specific amount.
You might also try some measures to manage thirst. Thirst management aims to maintain your water intake below the threshold that causes retention without being dehydrated. Waiting several minutes for the craving to pass is one good tip. Finally, you can keep track of your weight to see if you gain weight due to extra fluid.
Remember that fluid overload can be a silent health condition that invisibly causes various complications. Therefore, it is best to prevent fluid overload from occurring rather than seek treatment for it by keeping your daily water and salt intake in check.
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