Menstrual Health Centre

Water retention, bloating and tenderness

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Don’t let it get you down

‘Bloated’. Swollen. Aching and stiff. Lots of us know the feeling of water retention - or fluid retention as it’s more properly known. For most of us, pre-menstrual fluid retention is a regular part of our menstrual cycle. Fluid retention before a period can be uncomfortable and annoying, but the majority of the time it’s little more than a nuisance - although in some rare cases, it can interfere with daily activities.

Some women never experience it. Those that do find that they feel bloated and heavy in the week or so before their period begins. Often, the bloating occurs in the abdomen, breasts, fingers and ankles. So, literally, they grow a little larger, stiffer and more painful, as the fluid in our bodies pushes the skin out, and makes us less flexible.

Lots of us know the symptoms not just because we feel a little achy and uncomfortable, but also because our clothes don’t fit so well, and we put on weight.

What causes fluid retention?

Each of us has fluid within our bodies - you may remember the saying that we’re 70% water. Whilst that’s not exactly true, we do have a huge amount of fluid in our cells. It takes the form of blood, lymphatic fluid, and many other types of natural liquid.2

In the menstrual cycle, our hormone levels change, particularly estrogen and progesterone. About a week before our period, progesterone levels fall, and that causes our kidneys - that pass out fluid - to release less of it in our urine.3

In fact, so many changes occur when our periods come, that there are numerous possible causes for water retention - and they can vary between different women.

Whatever the cause, you may well notice one of the signs of water retention when your urine becomes a darker colour than normal. This is because less water is diluting all the waste chemicals within it.5

Feeling better, with no fuss

You could try changing your diet a week before you normally start to retain water. Try to avoid processed meals and other food high in salt. Drink lots of water - not too much, but at least a litre or two a day. A good rule of thumb is: if your urine is dark, or you feel thirsty, you need to drink water or another non-alcoholic drink. Avoid alcohol - it dehydrates you, or removes water. Stay away from coffee, strong tea, and other caffeine-rich drinks like colas, too. They can be ‘diuretic’ because of the caffeine, which means they make you pass more water6.

Healthy food can enhance the way you feel. Like fresh fruit and vegetables, green vegetables and wholegrain bread. You could also take a modest vitamin and mineral supplement too. Never take more than the recommended number of vitamins on the packet, and if you take medication, check first with your doctor that it is safe to begin using a food supplement.

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