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Hypothyroidism and Water Retention

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Water retention (edema) is one of the common complaints found in individuals with hypothyroidism. The water retention causes weight gain of more than 5 pounds and is manifested as puffiness surrounding the eyes, swelling of abdomen, feet and hands.

Let us see more about the relationship between water retention and low thyroid function and the treatment options.

Edema in hypothyroidism

Also called as edema, water retention indicates accumulation of fluids at above normal levels inside the tissues present in the body. This retention of water is also one of the causes of weight gain seen in hypothyroidism.

A 1983 study published in Clinical Endocrinology indicates the link between hypothyroidism and edema.

The symptoms that indicate water retention in hypothyroidism include swollen ankles, feet, face, abdomen, fingers, wrist and hands.

Water retention can occur in two ways:


This is a condition that occurs due to accumulation of waste products and fluids in the body due to low thyroid function. The fluid and waste accumulation in tissues does not resolve with diuretics. Treating the underlying thyroid condition is the only way to resolve the myxedema.

Impaired kidney function

Hypothyroidism can impair the function of the kidneys leading to obstruction of fluid balance and blood filtration.  This causes puffiness of ankles, hands and eyes. This edema is easy to reverse when you treat the low thyroid condition. It also responds to diuretic treatment.

A study published in Clinics and Practice in 2011 indicates the link between nephrosis, hypothyroidism and edema. The study recommends proper thyroid hormone therapy to treat the nephrosis, edema and hypothyroidism.

Impact of water retention

Other than the visible puffiness, the retention also triggers several health conditions. The increase in fluid produces undue pressure on nerves resulting in inflammation.

When the nerve compression is more in the forearm or wrist region, it causes carpal tunnel syndrome, which exhibits symptoms such as tingling, numbness, aches and burning sensation. Restricted blood flow due to fluid accumulation can cause symptoms such as tinnitus, dizziness, headaches, visual disturbances and breathlessness.

Water retention can also exert pressure on nerve endings in the legs resulting in leg cramps during nighttime.

How thyroid therapy can help

When you have hypothyroidism along with water retention, the water retention usually subsides with proper thyroid medications. When the thyroid function is normal fluids will not get accumulated. This will help in reducing the weight gain due to fluid retention. Weight gain in hypothyroidism is due to several factors which include deficient thyroid function, water retention and gastric issues.

To understand the effectiveness of thyroid therapy in treating the water retention, you need to know how hypothyroidism leads to edema or fluid retention. The impaired thyroid function in hypothyroidism leads to lowered body temperature.

This causes retention of fluids which is manifested as swollen fingers, wrist, feet, face, ankles and hands. A study published in JIMSA in 2013 reveals the effectiveness of L-thyroxin in treating edema in a 21 year old woman with hypothyroidism.

When the edema is not treated, it can worsen and turn in myxedema which is characterized by severe water retention and exacerbation of hypothyroidism. If left untreated the condition can result in the brain being affected. This condition is termed as myxedema coma.

Other coexisting conditions you should be aware of

The water retention in hypothyroidism can also be caused by adrenal fatigue. The functioning of adrenal gland is affected in autoimmune thyroid conditions and in hypothyroidism.  The adrenal hormones aldosterone and cortisol are not secreted properly resulting in low sodium levels and blood pressure.

This causes retention of water. Treating the adrenal fatigue and adding more salt to foods will help in increased aldosterone production.

Estrogen dominance in women during their peri-menopausal and menopausal stage is another cause of water retention. Low thyroid function, stress and nutritional deficiencies can lead to high estrogen levels. Restoring the hormonal balance is an effective way to treat the water retention in such cases.

Final takeaway

The treatment for hypothyroidism is aimed to restoring the thyroid function to its normal state. The treatment also focuses on getting rid of the symptoms that are associated with hypothyroidism including water retention. Thus by checking your thyroid function regularly and taking the right thyroid medications you can manage the edema effectively.

Even if the thyroid function is restored, you can still continue to take the thyroid medications for treating the persistent fluid retention and resultant weight gain. This approach is taken as in many cases of hypothyroidism discontinuing thyroid medication can cause water retention due to metabolic disturbances.

And in case of water retention caused by other factors like high estrogen or adrenal fatigue you need to take the necessary medications and adjust food habits to ensure the retention is stopped completely. In some cases the retention of water, bloating and weight gain can also be due to high calorie intake.

Monitoring the foods you eat and restricting calories will help in accelerating the treatment process. You will be able to see better resolution of your thyroid condition as well as the accompanying symptoms.

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