How to Treat Stomach Bloating and Water Retention

Stomach bloating and water retention, or water weight, are two conditions that cause discomfort for many people of all ages. In most cases, lifestyle adjustments, including changes to your diet and regular exercise, can help alleviate symptoms.

Potassium-rich foods such as avocados can help alleviate stomach bloating and reduce water retention. (Image: Westend61/Westend61/GettyImages)

Causes of Water Retention

Water retention, also known as edema, occurs when excess fluids build up in your body's circulatory system and cause swelling in your extremities, such as your feet, ankles, legs and hands, as well as your face. Other signs of edema may include swelling or puffiness of the tissue directly below your skin, abdominal swelling, shiny or stretched skin or skin that remains indented or dimpled when pinched.

A diet high in sodium, carbohydrates and excess alcohol consumption can contribute to water retention. Being sedentary for long periods of time can also cause water retention, which is a common situation for travelers on long airline flight and bedridden patients.

Even taking long walks can trigger edema because your muscles generate heat, causing blood vessels to push closer to the skin surface, resulting in swelling. Water retention can also occur in women who are pregnant or before their menstrual periods.

Edema can also be a symptom of a thyroid condition or kidney or heart disease. Certain medications for high blood pressure, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, estrogens and diabetes medications called thiaszolidnediones can cause water retention.

Ask your doctor about all possible side effects when starting a medication, including interactions with food or drink. Seek immediate medical help if you experience unusual symptoms such as prolonged swelling, leg or chest pain, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.

Symptoms and Causes of Bloating

When bloating occurs in the abdomen, most people experience an uncomfortable feeling of fullness, and the belly may appear swollen and distended. Stomach bloating may be accompanied by other symptoms such as flatulence, belching, stomach gurgling, constipation or nausea. While common occurrences , the symptoms can be awkward for many individuals. Understanding the causes can help reduce the frequency and discomfort.

Digestive health specialist, Tamara Duker Freuman, MS, RD, CDN, explains in her book, The Bloated Belly Whisperer, that bloating can occur in either the upper abdomen or lower abdomen. "The most common cause is buildup of gas in the digestive tract after eating," Freuman tells LIVESTRONG.com. "Another cause is eating too much fiber or gassy foods like beans."

Freuman recommends taking a photo of your bloated belly and making a note of when symptoms start after eating, their length and severity. Bring this information to your doctor to discuss what further diagnostic tests may be needed to treat your stomach bloating.

Document What You Eat

Since many foods may affect people's digestive systems differently, keeping a food journal to write down what you ate and how you felt a few hours later can be useful. If a particular food is irritating your stomach or causing gas, bloating or water retention, consider an elimination diet. Remove a specific food in question from your diet for a few weeks and track how you feel and if symptoms subside. Then, document how you feel after you add that food back into your diet.

Four food categories, which fall under the acronym FODMAP, can cause gas and stomach bloating. FODMAP stands for fermentable (pertaining to the gassiness in foods), oligosaccharides (e.g., legumes, cruciferous vegetables, onions, garlic wheat and barley), disaccharides (or dairy products) and polyols (sugar alcohols found in certain fruits and fruit juices, candies, chewing gum, energy bars, soft drinks and even cauliflower and mushrooms). Monitor and adjust your intake of these foods if they irritate your stomach.

Make Smart Food Swaps

Cutting back on salt and salty foods can reduce water retention. The Food and Drug Administration recommends limiting sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams daily, equal to one teaspoon of salt.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly half the sodium Americans consume comes from popular foods such as: cold cuts and cured meats, soups, pizzas, burritos, tacos, processed cheeses, chicken, sandwiches, egg dishes, breads and rolls and snack foods like chips, pretzels and popcorn.

Potassium-rich foods, such as avocados, plain yogurt, tomatoes and bananas, can help reduce water retention. Instead of salting foods, flavor with fresh herbs and spices. Cooking gassy foods rather than consuming them raw may help reduce stomach bloating.

Sauté cruciferous vegetables, raw onions and garlic in olive oil. Soak beans overnight in a pot of water to improve their digestibility and consider puréeing them into a dip or soup. Some fruits can can cause bloating; consider eating enzyme-rich papaya and pineapple.

Consider What You Drink

Excessive alcohol consumption can dehydrate your body and irritate your stomach which can cause bloating. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020, recommends a maximum of one drink a day for women and two for men. Carbonated beverages, caffeinated drinks and dairy products, like milk, can cause bloating. Drinking chilled or warm water can help flush out your system and alleviate stomach bloating and water retention.

The CDC notes that an individual's hydration needs can vary based on age, gender and physical activity. Aim for 11 to 15 cups daily or similar, which can be beneficial for both stomach bloating and water retention. If you find the taste of water dull, flavor it with slices of fresh fruit or fresh herbs such as mint or basil. Peppermint, ginger and chamomile teas are all soothing beverages for an irritated stomach.

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