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Causes of Abdominal Water Retention

author image Sarah Davis
Sarah Davis has worked in nutrition in the clinical setting and currently works as a licensed Realtor in California. Davis began writing about nutrition in 2006 and had two chapters published in "The Grocery Store Diet" book in 2009. She enjoys writing about nutrition and real estate and managing her website, RealtorSD.com. She earned her bachelor's degree in nutrition from San Diego State University.
Causes of Abdominal Water Retention
A young woman at the doctor's office for her stomach pain. Photo Credit JackF/iStock/Getty Images


Water retention is a common problem, especially if you've overindulged in foods with a high sodium content. Fluid retention most commonly affects the feet and legs, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, because excess fluid accumulates in the lowest point in your body. You can also retain fluid in your hands, face, lungs or abdomen. Fluid accumulation in the abdomen could signal a serious health condition and needs medical evaluation.


Ascites is the medical term for fluid accumulation in the abdomen. Cirrhosis -- the medical term for scarring of the liver that can lead to liver failure -- is the most common cause of ascites; around 75 percent of people with ascites have underlying liver disease, according to the Patient.co.uk website. Hepatitis B infection and alcohol abuse cause most cases of cirrhosis. Cirrhosis can be fatal when left untreated; if you feel that you have water retention around the abdomen, see your doctor ,especially if you're at risk of chronic liver disease.

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Heart Failure

Heart failure can also lead to abdominal water retention. When heart muscle weakens, the heart can't pump forcefully enough to keep blood moving efficiently through the circulatory system. Fluid backs up into the legs and also can accumulate in the lungs and abdomen. Right-sided heart failure is more likely to cause ascites than left-sided failure, which more often causes fluid to build up in the lungs, causing shortness of breath.


Around 15 percent of people with ascites have cancer, the Patient.co.uk website reports. Cancers of the kidney, liver and ovaries tend to cause water retention in the body, especially around specific organs, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology. The type of ascites is known as malignant ascites. Swelling and bloating in the lower abdomen is a major sign of ovarian cancer. Unfortunately, some types of cancers have few warning signs besides abdominal water retention, so it's important to be checked by a doctor right away if you notice fluid buildup in your abdomen.

Low Protein Intake

In third-world countries, young children are often seen emaciated, yet with large, bulging bellies. Poor nutrition can cause water to build up in the abdomen. The American Society of Clinical Oncology states that a very low protein intake can lead to abdominal water retention in both children and adults. Increasing protein intake, with foods like chicken and beef, increasing calorie intake and taking a vitamin and mineral supplement can help to reduce this type of ascites.

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