NAH on Facebook NAH on Twitter

Can Hypothyroidism Cause Water Retention and Edema?

Can Hypothyroidism Cause Water Retention and Edema?

Water is an essential part of healthy bodily function. In fact, up to 70 percent of the human body is composed of water. It is found in bones, blood, organs, muscles, and many other cells and tissues throughout. However, even though such a large portion of the body relies on a healthy supply of water, retaining too much can cause a variety of issues.

A common cause of increased liquid retention is poor thyroid function or hypothyroidism. Having a good understanding of hypothyroidism, recognizing its influence on water retention, and knowing the effects of edema (swelling caused by fluid retention) on the body may help alleviate water weight and other edema-related dysfunctions.

What is Hypothyroidism?

The thyroid is a small gland responsible for regulating numerous bodily functions through the production of hormones. Underactive thyroid function, also known as hypothyroidism, is a relatively common condition affecting over 13 million people. There are several potential causes of hypothyroidism including autoimmune disease, overly zealous treatment of hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), pregnancy, nutrient deficiencies, pituitary issues, and suboptimal hormone transport, receptivity, or conversion. Any of these disruptions may contribute to the development of hypothyroidism.

Learn even more about the thyroid gland here.

Because of its significant influence throughout the body, even minor thyroidal disruption can trigger a wide range of symptoms. Some of the most common being fatigue, reduced cognitive function, and weight gain. Hypothyroidism also prompts several physical discomforts related to increased fluid retention or edema.

Get a full list of thyroid disease symptoms here.

What is Edema?

Edema is a common issue among those with hypothyroidism. In fact, water retention is one of the primary factors of hypothyroid-related weight gain. Other physical symptoms of edema include puffiness around the eyes, and swelling of the abdomen, feet, and hands may also develop. Individuals with hypothyroidism who develop edema may also notice swelling in other areas. Depending on the type of tissue swelling it presents, edema may be classified in two ways: pitting and non-pitting

Pitting edema involves fluid accumulating in the space surrounding cells. The condition earns its name in part due to its distinct visual qualities. Making an indentation in an area affected by pitting edema results in the mark, or pit, remaining for several minutes or hours. Pitting edema may be caused by several conditions, but reduced thyroid and kidney function are two of the most common triggers.

Non-pitting edema is caused by a reduction in enzymatic activity resulting in a buildup of molecules called as mucopolysaccharides. These structures, composed of proteins and sugars, encourage the retention of fluids and salt, which significantly contributes to edema. Unlike pitting edema, this swelling does not cause indentations to remain in the skin. Non-pitting edema describes the severe swelling often seen among those with hypothyroidism.

Aside from the aesthetic issues of edema, there are concerns of other discomfort and damage. Increased fluid volume can place pressure on nerves thereby triggering inflammation. Excessive nerve compression can result in carpal tunnel syndrome thereby triggering symptoms such as tingling, numbness, aches, and a burning sensation in the affected areas. Unnecessary compression may also affect nerve endings, which can trigger cramping during the night thereby disrupting sleep. Fluid accumulation in tissues may also inhibit blood flow, which can trigger symptoms such as tinnitus, dizziness, headaches, visual impairment, and breathing problems.

How Does Hypothyroidism Contribute to Water Retention?

Hypothyroidism impacts multiple systems throughout the body, some of which influence water retention. However, there are two primary methods in which hypothyroidism influences the occurrence of edema: myxedema and reduced kidney activity.

A reduction of thyroid activity slows numerous bodily processes including waste removal. Myxedema is caused by the accumulation of waste and fluids facilitated by a decline in thyroid function. The development of myxedema may also exacerbate an existing case of hypothyroidism thereby creating a cycle of declining thyroid function and increased fluid retention. If left untreated, myxedema may eventually impact the brain resulting in exceptionally slowed bodily function known as myxedema coma. Some of those suffering from myxedema attempt to use diuretics to remove blockages and restore proper fluid regulation. Unfortunately, this method does not provide notable relief or improvement. The only effective method of alleviating myxedema is by optimizing thyroid function.

Hypothyroidism may also limit kidney activity resulting in disruption of fluid balance and blood filtration. Dysregulation of these processes can lead to telltale signs of edema such as puffiness in various regions of the body including ankles, fingers, hands, feet, etc. However, edema of this nature is quickly resolved by treating existing thyroid dysfunction. Unlike myxedema, the use of diuretics may help alleviate edema caused by reduced kidney function. Therefore, it is worth considering their inclusion in your treatment protocol.

In addition to these two primary causes of hypothyroid-related edema, there are several ways in which hypothyroidism encourages fluid retention.

  • Hypothyroidism is frequently accompanied by a reduction in body temperature. As temperature declines, the body is more likely to retain fluids
  • Reduced thyroid function slows the glomerular filtration process, the initial step in the creation and subsequent excretion of urine, thereby prompting greater retention of fluids
  • Inhibited circulation is a regular trait of hypothyroidism, which can disrupt cardiovascular function, negatively affect blood pressure, and damage blood vessels. Each of these elements can increase fluid retention

Learn about the importance of individualized thyroid treatment here.

Addressing Edema Through Proper Thyroid Care

Even though water is an essential component of healthy bodily function, holding on to excess fluids can lead to serious discomforts and bodily disruptions. One of the leading causes of edema is thyroid dysfunction in the form of hypothyroidism. Typically, optimizing thyroid function resolves any and all edema-related issues. Restoring thyroid function facilitates proper fluid retention and prevents unnecessary accumulation of liquids. Alleviating thyroid-related edema may result in several benefits including weight loss, improved nerve function, and resolution of physical discomforts.

If you are feeling waterlogged and suffering from the many telltale signs of edema, be sure to speak with your doctor about testing and treating your thyroid.


1. N. S. Neki. “Pitting Edema in Hypothyroidism.” JIMSA April – June 2013 Vol. 26 No. 2.
2. Wheatley T, Edwards OM. “Mild hypothyroidism and oedema: evidence for increased capillary permeability to protein.” Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 1983 Jun;18(6):627-35.
3. Zana A. Carver, Ph.D. “What My Cankles Taught Me About Thyroid Health.” Invisible Hypothyroidism.

Leave a Reply

Notify of

Sign up for our newsletter

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.