The signs of water retention, or edema, are swelling of the arms and legs, a tight or heavy feeling in the skin, and less movement or flexibility of the joints, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Also, when the skin is pressed, it leaves a dent.
When water is retained in the arms and legs, this is known as peripheral edema. When retained in the abdomen, it is known as ascites. Water can also be retained in the lungs and is known as pulmonary edema. Pulmonary edema can cause shortness of breath.
Water retention could be a temporary problem that goes away by itself, or it could be a symptom of a severe disease that needs treatment, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Water retention is common after a long flight, or after standing for long periods. Women may experience water retention during menstruation or pregnancy.
Water retention can also be due to venous insufficiency or varicose veins, where the veins have trouble transporting the blood back to the heart, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. It can be due to heart failure, which causes pulmonary edema, peripheral edema and ascites. It can be due to kidney failure or low protein levels in the blood. Water retention can also be due to scarring in the liver or liver cirrhosis, which causes ascites.