ECG signal

Dr Diana R Holdright

Consultant Cardiologist

Dr Diana Holdright

Common Problems - Fluid Retention

Fluid retention has a number of causes and likewise has a number of different manifestations; perhaps the most common of these is swollen ankles, which is more common in women and in older age.  In many cases it is not caused by a particular illness or disease but simply reflects impaired return of blood to the heart, which may be due to varicose and incompetent leg veins, or aggravated by reduced mobility and lack of exercise.  It is frequently misdiagnosed as a form of heart failure, and because it generally responds to heart failure treatments such as diuretics (somewhat incorrectly referred to as water pills), many patients believe they have a heart condition when they do not.  All the same, inadequate pumping action of the heart can lead to heart failure, which indeed causes fluid retention. Usually this first develops in the feet and ankles and progresses up the calves and higher in severe cases. Fluid can also accumulate in the abdomen, causing swelling and a feeling of fullness, together with malaise and loss of appetite.  Fluid can also develop in the lung cavities and contribute to the symptom of breathlessness, worse when lying down.

Prompt investigation is needed to determine the cause and direct treatment of fluid retention as it can also be a symptom of liver and kidney disease or a side-effect of certain medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

Download and print


Related pages:

Cardiac Conditions - Heart failure

Common Problems - Fluid Retention