IBS and Water Retention: 12 Solutions

Are you struggling with Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and wondering if it could be behind your recent water retention? You’re familiar with the bloating and abdominal distension that often accompany IBS, but could it also be causing your body to hold onto excess fluids?

In this article, we’ll get into the surprising connection between IBS and water retention. We’ll explore the science behind why this happens, whether IBS can influence your weight, and how dietary choices can exacerbate or alleviate these symptoms. 

Can IBS really cause weight retention? And what role does water intake play in managing IBS symptoms? We’ll answer these questions and more as we navigate the complex world of IBS and its impact on your body’s fluid balance.

By the end, you’ll have a clearer understanding of the relationship between IBS and water retention, empowering you to take control of your health.

IBS and Water Retention Key Takeaways

  1. IBS can disrupt your body’s fluid balance, leading to water retention and potential weight gain or bloating.
  2. The science behind water retention in IBS involves altered gut motility and increased intestinal permeability.
  3. Bloating is a common IBS symptom but is usually temporary and not due to actual weight gain.
  4. Dietary choices, such as following a low FODMAP diet, managing sodium intake, and tailoring fiber intake, can help reduce water retention and IBS symptoms.
  5. Hydration is crucial for managing IBS, as it softens stool, reduces bloating, and supports overall gut health.
  6. Lifestyle adjustments, including exercise, stress management, and mindful eating, can help manage weight and bloating in IBS.
  7. Medical treatments, such as antispasmodics and probiotics, can be effective for IBS-related water retention, but it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional for personalized advice.

What is Water Retention?

We usually say water retention, but it can refer to any fluid. The term “fluid” refers to any liquid that can be moved around inside or outside the body. There are many different types of liquids that fall under this category like milk and juices.

Water retention is when there is more than normal amounts of water stored in our bodies. This excess amount of water causes us to feel bloated and uncomfortable. We also call this feeling as being swollen.

In some cases, people with IBS have no idea that fluids are building up inside their gut, resulting in abdominal bloating. This however can be diagnosed by a medical practitioner.

The Science of Water Retention in IBS Patients

Ever wondered why your belly feels like a water balloon during an IBS flare-up? Let’s get down why that is and the science of it. IBS can cause water retention in a couple of ways:

  1. Altered Gut Motility: In IBS, your gut can become hypersensitive or sluggish, leading to irregular contractions. This can slow down the movement of food and waste, causing water to be absorbed more than usual, leading to harder stools and potential water retention.
  2. Increased Intestinal Permeability: IBS can also make your intestinal lining more permeable, allowing more water to be absorbed into the bloodstream. This can contribute to overall water retention in the body.
  3. Changes in Gut Microbiota: The trillions of bacteria in your gut play a crucial role in digestion and fluid balance. In IBS, the composition of these bacteria can be altered, affecting how your body handles water.

Now, you might be wondering, “Does IBS make me swollen or affect my weight?” The answer is yes, but not in the way you might think.

IBS Symptoms Influence on Weight

  • Bloating: The buildup of gas and fluid in your gut can make you feel and even look bloated, but it’s usually temporary and not due to actual weight gain.
  • Rome IV Criteria: These are the gold standard guidelines for diagnosing IBS. They take into account various symptoms, including bloating and changes in bowel habits, but not actual weight fluctuations.

IBS and Weight Gain or Loss

  • True weight changes in IBS are rare. Most of the time, it’s the fluctuation of water and gas that gives the illusion of weight gain or loss.
  • If you’re experiencing significant, unexplained weight changes, it’s important to consult your healthcare provider to rule out other underlying conditions.

Remember, IBS is a complex condition, and its impact on a body can vary from person to person. If you’re concerned about water retention or weight changes, keeping a symptom diary and discussing it with your healthcare provider will help shed more light on your unique situation.

Women are Primary Targets

Fluid retention also occurs more often with women as a result of their menstrual cycle. The primary reason for this is because the sex hormone progesterone is elevated during the week, leading to the period.

Fluid retention that is caused by the period, would normally affect a woman’s abdomen, breasts, face, ankles and hands.

If you have ever been pregnant, you know what it feels like to swell up with extra water. You will probably remember how much weight you gained during pregnancy. That was because your developing baby needed all those nutrients to grow into a healthy infant.

12 Ways To Reduce Water Retention

There are a number of ways to reduce water retention: 

1. Exercise More

Exercise helps flush out toxins from the body. Exercise can increase blood flow to the kidneys which helps with excretion of fluid through your urine.  Sweating also contributes to fluid loss.

If you exercise regularly, you will notice less bloating after each workout. Regular exercise is also great for your health overall.

2. Eat More Potassium-Rich Foods

Potassium is known to reduce water retention by increasing urine production and decreasing sodium levels.

Add more bananas, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, spinach, watermelon, and avocados to your diet, since these foods have higher amounts of potassium. There are also potassium supplements you can buy online. 

Potassium-rich foods may negatively affect those with kidney disease. Check with your doctor first before increasing potassium levels.

3. Drink Caffeine

Caffeine has diuretic properties which cause the kidneys to excrete more sodium through urination. Drinks like coffee and tea can increase urine output. 

Learn more about Decaf Green Tea and IBS.

4. Eat More Magnesium-Rich Foods

Magnesium has been shown to alleviate fluid retention and premenstrual symptoms. You can either get supplements online or eat foods like dark chocolate, nuts, whole grains, and leafy, green vegetables.

Magnesium-rich foods may not be beneficial if you have kidney disease. Check with your doctor first before eating magnesium-rich foods or taking magnesium supplements.

5. Add More Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 has been studied and shown to decrease premenstrual symptoms like water retention. There are higher amounts of vitamin B6 in walnuts, potatoes, meat, and bananas. You can also purchase vitamin B6 supplements online. 

6. Avoid Alcohol

Alcohol contains carbohydrates which increase insulin levels. Insulin increases the level of glucose in the bloodstream. That leads your body to retain more sodium and higher water retention.

7. Get More Sleep

Sleep deprivation causes an imbalance between hormones such as cortisol and melatonin. When there’s not enough sleep, our bodies will have a harder time managing sodium and water retention. Make sure you get enough sleep to help your body stay well-balanced.

8. Limit Salt Intake

Salt intake should always be limited when trying to lose excess water. Too much salt makes us retain fluids, so we need to limit its consumption. It is best if you avoid processed food products containing high amounts of salt.

Deli meats, canned foods and frozen prepared foods often contain large amounts of sodium. Instead of these, opt for fresh fruits and vegetables.

9. Take Dandelion Supplements

Dandelion is a natural diuretic herb that reduces water retention. The root extract of dandelions contain chemicals that might reduce swelling. Bodybuilders and athletes who are looking to lose excess water weight will often use dandelion supplements to help.

Dandelion supplements can be found online. 

10. Try Acupuncture

Acupuncture stimulates blood flow throughout the entire body. This improves circulation and flushes away toxins. In addition, acupuncture relieves IBS pain and stress, both of which contribute to water retention.

11. Avoid Eating Gluten

Gluten can lead to water retention and abdominal bloating in many patients. Avoid wheat containing products like bread, pasta, barley and rye.

12. Drink More Water

Drinking eight glasses of water a day will help to clean out your system consistently and also assist your body to perform normal functions. It helps to keep your digestive tract functioning properly.

Drinking enough water can also potentially help keep your bowels moving regularly, which prevents constipation. One study suggested that drinking at least 8 cups of water daily reduces the risk of developing colon cancer. 

How Dietary Choices Influence IBS Symptoms and Water Retention

Your food choices don’t just affect IBS symptoms; they can also impact your water balance. it’s not just about choosing traditional nutritious foods and healthy eating habits either. Let’s dive into how your diet can contribute to water retention in the context of IBS.

  • The low FODMAP diet for IBS: The low FODMAP diet is a well-established dietary approach for managing IBS symptoms. FODMAPs are a group of carbohydrates that can trigger digestive distress in some people, including those with IBS. By reducing high FODMAP foods, you may alleviate IBS symptoms and potentially reduce water retention.
  • Sodium and water retention: Sodium, a key component of table salt, is notorious for causing water retention. Many processed and packaged foods are loaded with sodium, which can exacerbate both IBS symptoms and water retention. Opting for fresh, whole foods and cooking at home can help you control your sodium intake.
  • High-fiber foods and water absorption: Fiber is essential for healthy digestion, but some fiber-rich foods can worsen IBS symptoms like bloating and gas. Certain types of fiber can also increase water absorption in the gut, leading to water retention. Tailoring your fiber intake to your specific IBS needs can help strike the right balance.
  • The role of stress and diet: Stress is a known trigger for both IBS symptoms and water retention. Stress can also influence your food choices, often leading to the consumption of more processed and high-sodium foods. Incorporating stress management techniques like mindfulness and regular exercise can help break this cycle.
  • The connection between obesity and IBS: Obesity is a risk factor for both IBS and water retention. Adopting a healthy, balanced diet that supports weight management, along with regular exercise, can not only improve IBS symptoms but also help reduce water retention.

Incorporating the principles of the low FODMAP diet, prioritizing fresh and whole foods, and managing stress can all play a role in reducing both IBS symptoms and water retention. As always, it’s important to work with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian to personalize your approach based on your unique needs.

Does Drinking Lots of Water Help with IBS?

Hydration is more than just an afterthought when it comes to managing IBS. It’s a key player in your gut health game plan. But does drinking lots of water actually help with IBS? Absolutely. Let’s delve into the why and how.

Debunking the Myth: Water Intake and IBS Symptoms

Some people worry that drinking more water might make their IBS symptoms worse, but there’s no scientific evidence to support this concern.

In fact, inadequate hydration can make IBS symptoms like constipation or bloating even worse. So, it’s time to shed light on this common misconception and hydrate properly.

Why is hydration so crucial for IBS management? Here are the main reasons:

  • Softens Stool: Drinking enough water keeps your stool soft and easy to pass. This can be a game-changer if you struggle with IBS-C (constipation-predominant IBS).
  • Reduces Bloating: Staying well-hydrated can actually help reduce bloating. When you’re dehydrated, your body holds onto water, leading to that uncomfortable puffiness.
  • Supports Overall Gut Health: A well-hydrated gut is a happy gut. Water helps maintain the balance of good bacteria in your intestines, supporting a healthy digestive system.

How Much Water Should You Drink for IBS?

The key is to listen to your body and sip on water throughout the day. While there’s no one-size-fits-all recommendation, aiming for around 8 cups (64 ounces) of water daily is a good starting point. Adjust based on your activity level, climate, and overall health.

Remember, always consult with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian for personalized advice on managing your IBS symptoms.

Managing Weight and Bloating Through Lifestyle Adjustments

When it comes to managing weight with IBS, lifestyle adjustments can be game-changers. By focusing on exercise and stress management, you can tackle both water retention and bloating. Here’s how:

1. Get Moving: Exercise for IBS Relief

Regular exercise and physical activity can work wonders for your IBS symptoms, including water retention. It helps to:

  • Stimulate bowel movements and reduce constipation, a common IBS issue.
  • Alleviate stress, which is often a trigger for IBS flare-ups.

The key here is to opt for exercises that are low-impact and IBS-friendly, such as:

  • Walking: A simple yet effective way to get your body moving and your bowels grooving.
  • Yoga: Gentle stretches and poses can ease both physical and mental tension.
  • Swimming: A great option if you’re looking for something easy on the joints.

2. Stress Less, Bloat Less

Stress and IBS often go hand in hand. By incorporating stress management techniques into your routine, you can reduce both the frequency and intensity of IBS symptoms, including bloating. Some stress-busting strategies include:

  • Deep breathing exercises: A quick and easy way to calm your nervous system.
  • Mindfulness and meditation: Helps you stay present and less reactive to stressors.
  • Prioritizing self-care: Carve out time for activities you enjoy, whether it’s reading a book or soaking in a bubble bath.

3. Watch What You Eat

While exercise and stress management are crucial, don’t overlook the impact of diet and intake of foods on your weight and bloating. Some general tips to keep in mind:

  • Stay hydrated: Drinking enough water can actually help reduce water retention.
  • Eat mindfully: Slow down, chew your food well, and pay attention to portion sizes.
  • Identify trigger foods: Certain types of foods like beans, broccoli, and carbonated drinks can contribute to bloating. Keep a food diary to realize your dangerous and safe foods.

Remember, managing weight with IBS is a holistic journey. By making these lifestyle adjustments, you’re not only taking care of your gut but also your overall well-being. So lace up those walking shoes, find your zen, and let your body and mind find their happy place.

Medical and Alternative Treatments for IBS-Related Water Retention

When it comes to managing IBS symptoms, you’ve got options. From traditional medications to alternative remedies, let’s explore the tools you have at your disposal.

IBS Medications:

  • Antispasmodics: These can help calm your gut and reduce cramping.
  • Laxatives: If constipation is your main issue, certain laxatives can provide relief.
  • Antidepressants: In low doses, these can help regulate pain and improve mood.
  • Anti-diarrheal Medications: For those with IBS-D, these can help slow down bowel movements.

Other IBS Treatments:

  • Probiotics: These “good” bacteria can help restore balance in your gut.
  • Fiber Supplements: If you’re prone to constipation, adding fiber to your diet can help.
  • Stress Management: Because stress can trigger IBS symptoms, finding healthy ways to manage it, such as through exercise or therapy, is key.
  • Gut-Directed Hypnotherapy: This specialized form of therapy can help retrain your gut-brain connection and reduce symptoms.

From medications that target specific symptoms to alternative remedies that focus on overall gut health, there’s a treatment approach for everyone. Just remember, what works for one person may not work for another. If you’re unsure which path to take, consult with a healthcare professional who can guide you based on your specific needs.

When to Seek Medical Advice

While water retention is a common and usually harmless occurrence, there are situations where it’s crucial to reach out to a healthcare provider.

Here are some red flags for when you should seek prompt medical evaluation:

  1. Sudden and Severe Weight Gain: Moderate weight gain with fluid retention is relatively normal. But if you notice a rapid increase in weight with IBS, especially when combined with swelling and bloating, it’s time to consult a healthcare professional. This could be a sign of an underlying medical condition that needs attention, such as heart or kidney problems.
  2. Unexplained Hunger and Thirst: Constantly feeling hungry, even after eating, or experiencing excessive thirst that can’t be quenched might be indicative of a more serious issue like diabetes or hormonal imbalances. A healthcare provider can help identify the root cause.
  3. Persistent or Severe Symptoms: If your water retention symptoms persist for more than a few days or become increasingly severe, it’s important to get checked out. This is especially crucial if you’re also experiencing symptoms like severe abdominal pain, vomiting, or bloody stools, as these could be signs of other gastrointestinal conditions like, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).
  4. Medication-Related Symptoms: Some medications, such as certain blood pressure drugs or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can cause or worsen water retention. If you suspect your medication is the culprit, don’t make any changes without consulting your healthcare provider.
  5. Preexisting Medical Conditions: If you have a history of heart, kidney, or liver problems, it’s essential to keep a close eye on your water retention symptoms and promptly report any changes to your healthcare team.

Remember, your healthcare provider is the best person to evaluate your symptoms and provide personalized guidance. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you’re unsure or if your symptoms are causing significant discomfort or distress.

Final Thoughts: Manage IBS and Water Retention

Understanding the link between water retention with IBS can offer valuable insights into managing your symptoms and overall well-being.

While IBS can disrupt your body’s fluid balance, the good news is that there are practical steps you can take. From dietary choices like the low FODMAP diet to lifestyle adjustments such as stress management and exercise, you have the power to reduce water retention and bloating.

Hydration is a key player in your gut health game plan. Drinking enough water softens stool, reduces bloating, and supports overall gut health. And don’t forget the importance of seeking medical advice when needed. Your healthcare provider can offer personalized guidance on medications, alternative treatments, and weight neutral nutrition counseling.

By taking a holistic approach to managing your IBS symptoms and water retention, you can find relief and regain control over your health. So, the next time you’re feeling bloated or noticing weight fluctuations, remember that your IBS might be the culprit, but it’s also a problem with solutions.

If you want to learn more about other symptoms related to IBS, check out these articles:

FAQs About IBS and Water Retention

Curious minds have pondered the connection between IBS and water retention. Let’s dive into some of the most common questions people have about this surprising link.

1. Can Water Retention in IBS Be Prevented?

Here’s the lowdown on how to minimize water retention if you have IBS:

  1. Increase Dietary Fiber Intake: Fiber can help regulate bowel movements and prevent constipation, a common trigger for water retention in IBS. Aim for 25-30 grams of fiber per day from sources like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes.
  2. Be Mindful of Food Choices: Some foods, like those high in sodium or artificial sweeteners, can exacerbate water retention. Keep an eye on your salt intake and consider limiting or avoiding carbonated beverages and processed foods.
  3. Manage Your IBS: By working with a healthcare professional, you can identify and manage your IBS triggers, which can help reduce the risk of water retention episodes.

Here’s a table to help you visualize the link between IBS and water retention:

IBS TypeRisk of Water Retention
IBS-C (constipation-predominant)Higher
IBS-D (diarrhea-predominant)Lower
IBS-M (mixed)Moderate

By taking these preventive measures, you can give yourself the best shot at keeping water retention at bay while managing your IBS symptoms.

2. How Long Does Water Retention in IBS Typically Last?

When you’re dealing with water retention in the context of IBS, you might wonder how long this pesky symptom will stick around.

Well, the good news is that water retention in IBS is usually transient and not prolonged, usually only lasting less than 48 hours. It’s often a result of the disease process and can come and go with the ebb and flow of your IBS symptoms.

But how long is “usually”? Let’s break it down:

  • Acute episodes: These can last anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days. They often come with IBS flare-ups and may resolve as your gut calms down. So, if you notice your pants fitting tighter or your rings feeling snug, don’t worry just yet. It might just be a temporary water retention event.
  • Chronic water retention: If you find yourself in a more long-term relationship with water retention, lasting weeks or even months, it’s essential to dig a little deeper. Chronic water retention in IBS can sometimes be a red flag for an underlying medical condition like kidney or heart disease. If you suspect this might be the case, it’s time to reach out to your healthcare provider for a closer look.

My advice? Keep an eye on how your body feels and reacts. If you notice a pattern of water retention that doesn’t seem to align with your typical IBS symptoms, it’s worth a conversation with your doctor. They can help you determine if further evaluation is needed or if it’s just another quirk of your IBS journey.

3. Is There a Specific Diet That Can Help with Water Retention in IBS?

When it comes to managing both IBS symptoms and water retention, certain diets can be a real game-changer. Here are a couple of options to consider:

  1. The Low-FODMAP Diet: This diet is designed to reduce the intake of certain carbohydrates that can trigger IBS symptoms like bloating and gas. By cutting out high-FODMAP foods, you reduce the risk of fermentable substances accumulating in your gut, which can contribute to both bloating and water retention.
  2. The Gluten-Free Diet: While gluten itself isn’t a common trigger for IBS symptoms, some people with IBS find that avoiding gluten can help alleviate their symptoms. If you have IBS and suspect a gluten sensitivity, trying a gluten-free diet may be worth a shot. Some studies have suggested that gluten can increase gut permeability, which may contribute to water retention. Going gluten-free could potentially help with both IBS symptoms and water balance.

It’s important to note that these restrictive diets are not one-size-fits-all solutions. What works for one person may not work for another.

If you’re considering making significant dietary changes, it’s a good idea to work with a registered dietitian who specializes in digestive health. They can help you navigate the complexities of your individual needs and ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you require.

Written and Medically Reviewed By

  • Kelly Chow

    Kelly first experienced IBS symptoms at the age of 24 with major-to-severe symptoms. She underwent all types of tests and experimented with many treatments before finally finding ways to manage her symptoms. Kelly has written and shared ebooks and Gluten-Free diet plans that she has used to live life like she did before IBS.

  • Julie Guider, M.D.

    Dr. Julie Guider earned her medical degree from Louisiana State University School of Medicine. She completed residency in internal medicine at the University of Virginia. She completed her general gastroenterology and advanced endoscopy fellowships at University of Texas-Houston. She is a member of several national GI societies including the AGA, ACG, and ASGE as well as state and local medical societies.