We all have those days where it feels like we’re lugging around a gallon of extra fluid, whether under our eyes, in our midsection, or pooling around our ankles. Yo-yoing hormones, late nights, too little exercise and too much salt can make you feel bloated all over. For the most part water weight is simply uncomfortable, but in some cases it can signal an underlying condition, such as congestive heart failure, cirrhosis or kidney disease. It can also be a side effect of medications for high blood pressure, angina or diabetes, and in some cases non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin or ibuprofen.
“If you’re having fluid problems and it’s very out of the ordinary for you, talk to your doctor,” says Dr. Dana Simpler, a primary care practitioner at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Md. Your physician can adjust any medications to ease the problem, or give you a work-up to rule out more serious problems.
For minor bloating, try these all-over tips.
There’s no way around it: The best method for reducing under-eye swelling is to get a good night’s sleep. But you can also minimize fatigue-related bags by sleeping with your head slightly elevated, to help promote drainage, and avoiding sleeping on your stomach. A cold compress can help relieve the swelling, but the bags usually drain on their own by midday.
If you’re getting plenty of sleep, but your eyes are still unusually puffy, it could be an allergic reaction to a cosmetic or something else your eyes are being exposed to. “It’s sometimes a sign of an allergy to nail polish, since we are constantly touching our eyes with our fingers,” says Simpler.
“During PMS time, for hormonal reasons you can retain water in the pelvic area,” Simpler says. “Some women do feel better if they take a fluid pill.”
You can buy mild diuretics over the counter. They are usually labeled as PMS treatment, and the active ingredients often contain pamabrom, ammonium chloride or caffeine. If your suffering in the days before your period merits something stronger, ask your doctor for a prescription for spironolactone or other diuretic.
You might also find that eating foods that have a natural diuretic effect, such as asparagus, watermelon and celery, reduces menstrual-related bloat.
The body’s bottom half is where excess fluid tends to accumulate most. Arteries carry blood down and away from your heart, but veins need a little extra help to get fluids flowing back up. A typical sedentary lifestyle works against that process.
“If somebody sits a lot because of their life or job they’re going to have a tendency to collect fluid in their ankles,” Simpler says. “If you’re not moving your muscles, the fluid goes down to your feet.”
By far the most foolproof method for reducing lower-body bloat is exercise, which not only helps fluid circulate but also promotes lymphatic drainage. It’s also important to replenish the fluid you lose when you exercise, but don’t overdo it. Drink a bit of water every 10-15 minutes if you’re walking or jogging, or grab some sips in between sets if you’re playing a sport.
In general, when it comes to hydration Simpler cautions against following blanket recommendations like 8 glasses of water a day.
“The problem is that one size does not fit all,” she says. “Listen to your body, listen to your thirst and if you have medical problems, listen to your physician.”