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What Causes Water Retention & Shortness of Breath?

By Klaire Brown ; Updated July 27, 2017

Water retention or shortness of breath can be signs of a minor medical problem or a result of something more serious. Water retention, or edema, occurs when fluid is retained in the bodily tissues. This can be triggered by poor diet, hot weather, lack of exercise or hormone-related issues. Shortness of breath can be associated with numerous conditions involving the respiratory system, obesity or allergies. Anytime water retention and shortness of breath occur together, the underlying problem can possibly be of a more serious nature.


Cardiomyopathy is a treatable disease affecting the heart, causing difficulties pumping blood through the body. Symptoms may or may not be present in the early stages of this disease; however, as it progresses, some of the more common symptoms may include breathlessness, swelling of the lower body, and bloating of the abdomen. It is important to receive treatment at the onset of the first symptoms, as this disease can become progressively worse in a short amount of time.

Heart Failure

Heart failure occurs when the heart becomes too weak to withstand the amount of returning blood from the body. Blood is then backed up into other organs such as the lungs, making it difficult to breathe, hence the term "congestive heart failure." The inability to breathe normally can be experienced during physical activity or even in a state of rest. Fluid can also extend to other bodily tissue, causing swelling due to fluid retention.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

COPD is a progressive disease that includes one or both of the conditions, emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Cigarette smoking is the number one contributer to this deadly disease, and the inability to breathe is the most common side effect. According to www.hmc.psu.edu, "Almost 16 million people have COPD and it is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States." Because the act of breathing becomes so difficult, this can weaken the heart, which in turn can lead to swelling in the lower extremities. There is simply no way to reverse the damage done to the lungs; however, lifestyle changes can impede the progression of the disease.

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