Could it be that my puffy fingers and legs are caused by my behaviors with alcohol? This is one of the questions many people wake up asking after a night or two of having a few drinks. That might seem far-fetched, I know, but how else can you explain the sudden swelling in your feet, legs, and arms while all you did was have a few drinks? Turns out this theory is not far-fetched. Some effects of alcohol may lead to symptoms such as those you might be experiencing. So, in this article, we will guide you to answer the question: does alcohol make you retain water?
We will comprehensively discuss what water retention is, its causes, and its link to alcohol intake. All our explanations are evidence-based, which makes them reliable to use to justify your answer. Read on and feel free to jot down some points to help you answer the question on if indeed alcohol causes water retention.
What Is Water Retention?
Have you ever heard people relating their puffy feet and fingers to water retention? Ever wondered how this theory works? Well, let us find out! To begin with, water or fluid retention occurs when there is a problem in one or more of your body mechanisms.
However, it is not just any other body mechanism. It is the body mechanism responsible for maintaining your body fluids. The different body systems that help in maintaining healthy fluid levels include your kidneys, the lymphatic system, circulatory system, and those that deal with your hormonal factors (10).
If a problem arises in these systems, you may experience water retention. It is also known as Edema. Edema affects any body part, and for a couple of reasons (10). These include:
Congestive Heart Failure
When your heart isn’t operating effectively, your blood pressure also tends to change. As a result, you may experience fluid retention. You will, therefore, have swollen ankles, feet, or legs. You might also retain fluids in your lungs, causing breathing difficulties or a long-term cough (10).
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Capillaries refer to the tiny blood vessels responsible for fluid balance management in your body (10). If they happen to be damaged, the result could be edema. They might be damaged, for example, by various medications like those for high blood pressure.
If the capillaries are damaged from these medications or the pressure in the vessels becomes too much, edema occurs (8). However, in some cases, capillary damage might result from an existing condition known as leaky capillary syndrome (10).
Kidney diseases may also cause edema, especially if they cannot remove enough sodium and water. In this case, pressure in the blood vessels starts building up, eventually causing water retention (3). If edema is caused by kidney disease, you could experience edema swelling signs in your legs and around the eyes (3).
Liver diseases or liver cirrhosis is also another major contributor to edema in your abdomen. Long-term alcohol intake causes what is known as liver cirrhosis. Liver cirrhosis ultimately leads to a lack of proteins and congestion in your liver. When this happens, the pressure in your blood vessels increases, causing fluid to seep out into your abdomen (3).
Low Protein Levels in Your Blood
If your blood lacks protein albumin, fluid may leak out of your blood vessels quite easily. The lack of protein albumin may be from extreme malnutrition or liver and kidney diseases (3).
Fatal Lung Conditions Like Emphysema
Water retention, especially in the legs and feet, may also be caused by severe lung problems. Such a condition happens when there is high pressure in the lungs, resulting in edema. This condition can be in combination with a high heart rate (3).
Signs Of Water Retention
Luckily, some various observable signs and symptoms can help with alerting you to whether or not you have edema. Please note that the primary symptoms of water retention in your body are swelling and overall discomfort (10).
Swelling is the most observable signs and is common in your feet, legs, ankles, and hands (4). You will tend to swell in different areas depending on where the water is retained. For example, as mentioned earlier, your legs and area around the eyes may swell if you retain fluids in your kidneys.
In light of this, you may try to connect the dots regarding why you have puffy fingers. Puffy fingers and feet are mostly associated with water retention arising from alcohol intake. When edema appears mostly in your arms and legs, it is referred to as peripheral edema (3). This is the most common situation.
Swelling is the only sign of edema. Other common and early signs of peripheral edema especially include (3):
- Having arms or legs that feel either full or heavy
- A feeling of tightness or warmth around the skin where edema occurs
- Trouble moving any joint around the area with edema
- Experiencing a sensation of tautness or pain in the surrounding area
- Dent signs whenever you press around the area with the swelling
Does Alcohol Make You Retain Water?
Most people, perhaps even you, consume alcoholic beverages to feel good. No one wants to consume or drink anything that might have dire consequences the following day. Unfortunately, the only way this can be guaranteed is by abstinence.
Although the last thing you want after a night of fun and a few drinks is swollen feet and fingers, this may happen anyway. These are some of the possible consequences of alcohol consumption, which also happen to also be the signs of water retention (10).
As mentioned earlier, water retention occurs when some systems do not function properly to help with the proper maintenance of your body fluids. Alcohol might be the reason why some of these systems do not function as they are supposed to.
Why And How Does Alcohol Make You Retain Water?
Let’s face it. Whether it is chronic or acute alcohol consumption, the fact is that alcohol intake could compromise your kidney function (2). In particular, it may result in liver cirrhosis, which we discussed earlier and ranked among the causes of edema.
To understand how alcohol causes water retention, you have to first comprehend the role of the kidney. The kidney tubules are responsible for maintaining your body’s water and electrolyte levels in equilibrium (2).
In most cases, this may be affected by various factors, including excessive alcohol intake and different fluctuating needs of your body. Under the influence of alcohol, the tubules may tend to retain excess water, which then causes swelling in your feet.
Swollen feet are among the first observable signs of water retention. Luckily, you can try some home remedies to deal with edema. However, if this is left untreated, it may cause more damage. Your kidneys may deteriorate following alcohol dependence or abuse, as well as causing liver disease (2).
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How Long Does Alcohol Make You Retain Water?
One major effect of alcohol consumption on your body is the increased urge to urinate (6). When you drink water, your brain has the ability to release a hormone that prevents your kidneys from producing too much urine.
However, when liquid is too much alcohol, your body tends to do the opposite. Your brain stops releasing that hormone that restricts your kidneys from making much urine (6). The result is that you have a bigger urge to use the bathroom.
This might leave you severely dehydrated by the end of the night. Over time, drinking heavily may wear your kidneys down (6).
Knowing this, you should not wait to discover how long you retain water because of alcohol. Instead, Medical News Today advises you seek medical help if the swelling persists past 2 days (13). This is because persistent and severe swelling past such a timeline might indicate something is wrong with your heart, kidney, or liver (13).
Can Water Retention From Alcohol Cause Weight Gain?
Truth be told, weight is one of the most sensitive subjects in today’s society. Almost everyone is out looking for ways on how to either lose weight or maintain their ideal body weight. It has created a weight-loss buzz, further increasing the weight-loss trend.
Most of the things that people want to keep away from are products that could result in weight gain. Sadly for alcohol lovers, alcohol is one such product. However, people are uncertain about how alcohol precisely causes weight gain. Most think it is related to the type of alcohol one drinks, while others believe it is strictly from water retention.
When having water retention, alcohol is only responsible for your water weight. Due to the imbalance in your salt to water ratio, your body is forced to hang on to any extra fluid (11). When this happens, it leads to edema and increased water weight.
Fortunately, water weight is temporary. According to WebMD, it magically melts away when your kidneys restore the salt-water balance (11). Despite this, alcohol can still cause weight gain. This is not through water retention but instead is based on the calories you consume on a regular basis.
Alcohol is high in calories and abusing it may make you surpass your daily energy requirements (1). As we all know, the key to weight loss is maintaining a calorie deficit. This is rendered impossible if you drink heavily or abuse alcohol. So, instead of shedding pounds, you could end up gaining more.
Is Water Retention Similar To Bloating?
You might have heard some people referring to water retention from alcohol as alcohol bloating, or vice versa. It makes you wonder if these two concepts are similar. Truth be told, these are two different concepts.
Again, water retention occurs when water is retained in specific areas of your body. However, bloating occurs when air or gas is trapped in your gastrointestinal tract (GI) (9). The primary cause of alcohol bloating in your stomach tends to be gastritis. Its most common characteristic is inflammation in the lining of your stomach (9).
Unlike with water retention, you will hardly notice bloating by seeing swollen feet or arms. Instead, you will experience the following symptoms (9):
- Abdominal pain
- Changes in appetite
- Stomach bloating
So, the answer is no. Water retention is not the same as alcohol bloating. These are two different health problems with different causes, symptoms, and remedies.
Remedies For Water Retention
The good news is that you can often treat water retention even in the comfort of your home. So, do not wait until the edema symptoms are severe to now start looking for water retention remedies. You can implement any of the following remedies, depending on their signs and symptoms. Remember to ask for a go-ahead from your physician before you adopt any of these remedies. Without further ado, the remedies include:
Believe it or not, moving around may help you specifically address your swollen feet. In most cases, the cause may not be water retention from alcohol intake but instead edema arising from limited movement (12). This is likely to happen if you spend the majority of your day sitting down.
As a result of limited movement, pressure in your legs and feet blood vessels increase causing fluid retention. Try to move around to keep your blood in circulation. This will limit any swelling in your legs, feet, or ankles (12).
Standing throughout the day may also cause water retention in your legs due to increased pressure in your leg blood vessels. One best home treatments to tackle swollen feet following such a cause is elevating them. Note that you have to make sure that the feet are elevated above your heart (13).
Trying A Low-Salt Diet
One of the best methods of beating water retention according to Medical News Today is the consumption of low-sodium foods (7). According to the site, excess sodium in your body causes immediate water retention.
This is because your body must maintain a balanced sodium-to-water ratio for proper functioning. However, with excessive sodium intake, this balance is disrupted. It thereby makes your body hold on to water when you consume too much salt (7).
To avoid the fatal consequences of water retention, you are advised to watch your daily sodium intake. You should avoid eating more than 2, 300 milligrams of sodium in a day according to Medical News Today (7).
That being said, the reality is that an average American will consume more than 3, 400 milligrams of sodium daily (7). This rate is extremely high when compared to the recommended limit.
The other best home remedy to reduce water retention or edema is drinking enough water. Instead of drinking alcohol, try to substitute this drink with water. Unlike any other alcoholic beverage, water does not contain any calories. So, you are certain that it will not contribute to extra calories.
Similarly, drinking water will lower your water weight. The reasoning behind this is that dehydration is the reason why your body holds on to extra water. This is because of the lack of incoming water. So, when you drink enough water, your body does not retain it (7).
Likewise, hydrating improves the functioning of your kidneys. This allows them to flush out excess sodium and water that may be resulting in edema. So, try to hydrate as frequently as possible. If you struggle with hydration, try to flavor your water to increase your quantity.
You can use citrus fruits or mint leaves to flavor your water. Try to keep away from sugary drinks.
A doctor may also recommend treatment as the best measure to deal with water retention. For example, the healthcare provider may propose taking diuretics as the mode of treatment. They might also recommend other treatment measures or medications.
- Pulmonary edema. This type of edema is excessive fluid retention in the lungs leading to breathing difficulties. This may result from conditions such as acute lung injury or congestive heart failure.
- Peripheral edema. This primarily affects the legs, ankles, feet, arms, and hands. It leads to swelling, movement difficulties, and puffiness in the affected area.
- Macular edema. This is a severe complication of diabetic retinopathy. There would be swelling in your macula, an area in your eye responsible for comprehensive and central vision.
- Cerebral edema. This occurs in the brain and may result from various potentially life-threatening reasons. Its main symptoms include partial or whole vision loss, neck stiffness or pain, headaches, vomiting, nausea, dizziness, and mental state or consciousness changes.
The Bottom Line
Does alcohol make you retain water? The answer is yes! Excessive drinking makes your kidneys hold on to excess water in response to a lack of suitable water. Consequently, you experience the symptoms of edema, or what is popularly known as water retention.
Nonetheless, water retention may also be caused by other factors including kidney and liver diseases, capillary damage, and congestive heart failure. Always consult with a doctor when you experience water retention signs and symptoms.
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This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Alcohol and weight loss: What to know (2020, medicalnewstoday.com)
- Alcohol’s Impact on Kidney Function (1997, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Causes and signs of edema (2016, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Edema (Pitting) (2019, medicinenet.com)
- Everything you need to know about edema (2017, medicalnewstoday.com)
- How Alcohol Affects Your Body (2019, webmd.com)
- How to lose water weight naturally (2018, medicalnewstoday.com)
- Pulmonary Edema (2020, medicinenet.com)
- What to know about alcohol bloating (2019, medicalnewstoday.com)
- What to know about water retention (2020, medicalnewstoday.com)
- What’s Water Weight? (2021, webmd.com)
- Why Am I Retaining Water? (2020, webmd.com)
- Why are my feet swollen? (2020, medicalnewstoday.com)