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Simple Ways to Manage Fluid Buildup

Updated Aug 3, 2020


Lara DeSanto

Medical ReviewerYasmine S. Ali, M.D.


Weigh In Every Day

Stepping on the scale every morning is one of the best way to monitor your fluid level, says Gurusher S. Panjrath, M.D., associate professor of medicine at George Washington University and chair of the American College of Cardiology Heart Failure and Transplantation Council. If you notice a gain of more than 2 to 3 pounds in a day or 5 pounds in a week, that’s a potential sign of water retention—so you should call your doctor right away.

Weigh yourself first thing in the morning, before eating and after using the bathroom, and write down the amount.


Limit How Much You Drink

The most important thing in preventing fluid retention, according to the NIH, is to simply watch your fluid intake. How much you need to cut back depends on your specific situation, however, says Dr. Panjrath. “The amount may vary based on individual, location, and weather.”

For example, if your heart failure is not very severe, you might not have to limit fluids much at all. But if it gets worse, you may need to stick to 6 to 9 cups (1.5 to 2 liters) per day, according to the NIH. Your doctor can help you come up with guidelines that make sense for you. It can be helpful to keep a log of your fluid intake in a small notebook or the notes app on your smart phone.


When you’re at home, use the same size glass at all your meals. All you really need is 1 cup (8 oz. or 240 mL) of liquid, according to the NIH. At restaurants, keep rogue refills in check by placing an extra napkin on top of your glass in between sips, then turnover your empty glass when you’re done.


Watch the Water That You Eat Too

It sounds pretty straightforward—just don’t have too many drinks in a day, right? Well, it’s trickier than it seems because it’s not just beverages you need to worry about. You eat a lot of water too, especially in foods like:

  • Soup

  • Ice cream

  • Popsicles

  • Puddings

  • Gelatin

  • Watermelon

  • Strawberries

So when you’re watching your fluid intake, you’ve got to factor these foods in. While you may want to skip these types of treats, you don’t necessarily have to give up chunky soups and stews. Try eating them with a fork and leaving most of the broth behind.

Avoid Salty Foods

There’s a reason why you want a glass of water with those salty potato chips—eating too much salt may make us thirsty and bloated, according to the NIH. And that’s bad for heart failure patients in two ways: One, because it makes you want to drink more water, and two, because high levels of sodium cause our bodies to retain fluid anyway.

“It is important to restrict sodium, which is prevalent in lot of common foods especially processed meats, breads, and soups among others,” says Dr. Panjrath.

So for those who are trying to limit fluid buildup with heart failure, salty snacks may be a no-go. And remember to check nutrition labels regularly, especially on canned and frozen foods, which can contain high levels of sodium, says the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Check with your doc to see if there’s a specific amount of sodium you should limit yourself to per day.

Stock Up on Gum

When you’re trying to limit your fluid intake, your thirst can get the better of you. Instead of gulping down a glass of water, go for a stick of gum, or try rinsing your mouth with cold water and spitting it out, suggest experts at the NIH. You can also try sucking on hard candies, lemon slices, or small chunks of ice.

Try Diuretics

Beyond limiting your fluid intake, you can also help your body eliminate excess fluid by taking what’s called a diuretic, says Dr. Panjrath. These are often referred to as water pills, and some types can be purchased over the counter. Taking them makes you urinate more often, ridding your body of extra liquid and helping to prevent fluid buildup. Ask your doctor if one is right for you.

There are also natural diuretic herbs and supplements you can try, too. Some studies find that parsley, ginger, and dandelion extract may help, according to the Mayo Clinic. Still, more research is needed, so talk to your M.D. before relying too heavily on these.

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