Water retention: Relieve this premenstrual symptom

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Water retention: Relieve this premenstrual symptom

Premenstrual water retention causes a bloated, heavy feeling the week or two before your period begins. For most women, water retention is just a monthly bother — but in some cases, it can be severe enough to interfere with daily activities. Here's help feeling better.

Why water retention happens

Water retention is a classic symptom of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). What causes PMS — and its unwelcome symptoms — is unclear, but hormonal changes seem to play a major role.

Put lifestyle changes to work

Taking good care of yourself can help banish water retention. Follow these tips:

  • Include physical activity in your daily routine. Women who participate in regular physical activity generally report fewer PMS symptoms.
  • Skip the salt. Limiting the amount of salt in your diet can help prevent water retention. Pay attention to hidden sources of sodium, such as soy sauce, canned vegetables, soups and deli meats.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains. Avoid caffeine and alcohol.

Consider medications

If you can't control premenstrual water retention with lifestyle changes alone, various medications may help. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, your desire to become pregnant and other factors, options may include:

  • Over-the-counter PMS treatments. These medicines (Midol, Pamprin, others) usually contain some combination of mild diuretics, pain relievers, antihistamines and caffeine, which can help treat a range of PMS symptoms at once — but if your main symptom is water retention, you may not need all of the active ingredients in these medications.
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others), may help you feel more comfortable. Keep in mind that long-term use of NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or ulcers, however, and taking NSAIDs and diuretics at the same time can cause kidney damage.
  • Birth control pills. Oral contraceptives prevent ovulation, which can help reduce the physical symptoms of PMS.

Choose supplements carefully

Countless vitamins, minerals and herbs have been touted as cures for PMS symptoms, but few have been proven effective. Still, research shows promise for:

  • Calcium. Taking 1,200 milligrams (mg) of calcium a day may reduce the physical symptoms of PMS, including water retention.
  • Magnesium. Taking 200 to 400 mg of magnesium a day may help alleviate water retention. Magnesium isn't recommended for women who have serious heart or kidney disease, however.

Consult your doctor before taking dietary supplements or herbal remedies. Taking excessive amounts of these products or taking them with other medications can be harmful.

When to explore other options

If you continue to be troubled by monthly water retention, consult your doctor. He or she may suggest that you keep a symptom diary for a few months. This can help confirm that your symptoms are related to your menstrual cycle, rather than other causes of abdominal pain — including irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease or other gastrointestinal problems. Your doctor can also help determine the best treatment for you.

Last Updated: 2009-10-20
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