Water retention before your period can be uncomfortable and annoying — but lifestyle changes, medications and dietary supplements can help relieve this common premenstrual symptom. By Mayo Clinic Staff

Water retention is a classic symptom of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). For most women, water retention is just a monthly bother — but in some cases, it can be severe enough to interfere with daily activities. Here's help feeling better.

Premenstrual water retention causes a bloated, heavy feeling the week or two before your period begins. What causes water retention and other PMS symptoms is unclear, but hormonal changes seem to play a major role. Heredity might be a factor as well. Your diet — such as a lack of certain vitamins or too much salt — might also contribute to water retention.

Taking good care of yourself can help banish water retention. Follow these tips:

  • Include physical activity in your daily routine. Women who participate in regular physical activity generally report fewer PMS symptoms.
  • Skip the salt. Limiting the amount of salt in your diet can help prevent water retention. Don't add extra salt to food at the table or during cooking, and eat fewer processed foods. Also pay attention to hidden sources of sodium, such as soy sauce, canned vegetables, soups and deli meats.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains. Avoid caffeine and alcohol.

If you can't control premenstrual water retention with lifestyle changes alone, various medications might help. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, your desire to become pregnant and other factors, options to treat water retention might include:

  • Diuretics. These medications — sometimes referred to as water pills — are available by prescription to help reduce fluid buildup. Be aware that taking ibuprofen or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and diuretics at the same time can cause kidney damage.
  • Birth control pills. Some research suggests that oral contraceptives — which prevent ovulation — can help reduce the physical symptoms of PMS.

Countless vitamins, minerals and herbs have been touted as cures for PMS symptoms, but few have been proven effective. Still, some research shows promise for:

  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • B vitamins, such as thiamine and riboflavin
  • Vitamin E

Consult your doctor before taking dietary supplements or herbal remedies. Taking excessive amounts of these products or taking them with other medications can be harmful. For example, too much vitamin E can be problematic for women who have diabetes or heart disease.

If you continue to be troubled by monthly water retention, consult your doctor. He or she might suggest that you keep a symptom diary for a few months. This can help confirm that your symptoms are related to your menstrual cycle, rather than other causes of abdominal pain — including irritable bowel syndrome or other gastrointestinal problems. Your doctor can also help determine the best treatment for you.

Nov. 12, 2011