Hypervolemia: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Medically Reviewed By Adam Bernstein, MD, ScD
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Hypervolemia, or fluid overload, is having too much fluid in the body. Fluid overload occurs when the body cannot get rid of excess fluid. Treatment for hypervolemia includes taking medications to aid fluid excretion, limiting sodium intake, or undergoing dialysis. Conditions that impair the body’s ability to eliminate excess fluid may result in hypervolemia. These conditions include congestive heart failure, kidney failure, or cirrhosis. People with hypervolemia may experience abdominal swelling, rapid weight gain, or shortness of breath.

Read on to learn more about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatments for hypervolemia.

What is hypervolemia?

A man filling a glass with water
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Hypervolemia is excess fluid. Everyone has a certain amount of fluid in their bodies. Most of it is intracellular fluid, which is inside the cells. Some of it is extracellular fluid (ECF), which is outside the cells.

ECF is everywhere there is space outside of cells. This includes in the blood and lymph, between cells, surrounding the brain and spinal cord, and inside muscles and tissues. With hypervolemia, there is too much ECF.

What are the causes of hypervolemia?

Several factors can cause hypervolemia. One is having too much salt in the body. Excess sodium causes the body to retain water to dilute the sodium.

When you are healthy, the body rebalances sodium and water to handle this retention. The body excretes the excess sodium and water. The kidneys are responsible for reabsorbing or excreting sodium and fluid depending on the body’s needs.

Certain medical conditions can affect how your body manages fluid, including:

  • Congestive heart failure: This condition is a common cause of fluid overload. It occurs when the heart cannot effectively pump blood to the kidneys. Without enough blood to filter, the kidneys cannot perform the way they should.
  • Kidney failure: Kidney failure is advanced kidney disease. As kidneys fail, they can no longer remove excess fluid and waste from the body. This can result in fluid overload.
  • Liver cirrhosis: This is permanent liver damage that can lead to liver failure. The liver filters blood to remove toxins. With cirrhosis, the liver cannot filter the blood properly. This signals the kidneys to increase blood pressure, which in turn causes the kidneys to retain sodium and water.

Fluid overload can also occur after receiving intravenous fluids, during your menstrual cycle, or during pregnancy.

What are the symptoms of hypervolemia?

Hypervolemia symptoms result from excess fluid putting stress on your organs and tissues. Some common symptoms include:

Seek medical care promptly if you experience symptoms or are at risk of developing hypervolemia.

How do doctors diagnose hypervolemia?

Doctors typically diagnose hypervolemia with a physical examination and an assessment of your medical history. In particular, they look for signs of swelling and unexplained weight gain.

You may also need blood or urine tests to assess your sodium levels. An irregular sodium level may not definitively diagnose the cause of hypervolemia. However, it may help doctors rule out certain conditions. Additional testing may be necessary to determine the underlying cause.

What are the treatments for hypervolemia?

Doctors typically address the underlying condition to treat hypervolemia. Treatment may include diuretics, which are medications that increase fluid loss through urination.

If your kidneys are not functioning properly, dialysis can remove excess fluid mechanically.

Learn more about dialysis here.

Limiting sodium in your diet may make it easier for your body to eliminate excess fluid. This will help control the symptoms of congestive heart failure and other conditions.

What are the risk factors for hypervolemia?

Having an underlying condition that can cause hypervolemia puts you at risk. Consuming too much salt and water may increase the risk even more.

Reducing risk

If you are at risk of developing hypervolemia, your doctor may recommend a low-salt diet. In some cases, you may need to limit the amount of fluid you drink daily. However, this can be a delicate balance. Talk with your doctor to understand the best way to avoid fluid overload.

What are potential complications of hypervolemia?

Without treatment, hypervolemia can cause severe complications in many organ systems in the body.

Potential complication include:

  • Pulmonary edema: This condition occurs when fluid collects in the lungs. This makes it harder for the lungs to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide.
  • Skin and musculoskeletal edema: This is swelling of the skin and muscle tissues. The swelling can lead to pressure sores and impaired wound healing.
  • Organ damage: Fluid overload can also cause damage to the organs involved in the underlying condition. These organs include the heart, kidneys, and liver.

Other frequently asked questions

Here are questions people also ask about hypervolemia. Dr. Adam Bernstein has reviewed the answers.

What is the difference between hypervolemia and hypovolemia?

While hypervolemia is excess fluid in the body, hypovolemia occurs when you do not have enough fluid in your body. Hypovolemia may develop due to conditions like external injuries, internal bleeding, or illnesses. Dehydration and malnutrition can also play a role. People with severe hypovolemia are at risk of going into hypovolemic shock and will need immediate medical attention.

How does cirrhosis cause hypervolemia?

Cirrhosis damages your liver, making it unable to filter your blood properly. When this happens, your liver signals your kidneys to increase your blood pressure. To do this, your kidneys will retain sodium and water.

Summary

Hypervolemia is an excess of fluid in the body. Conditions such as cirrhosis, kidney failure, and congestive heart failure can increase the risk of developing the condition. People with hypervolemia may experience swelling in their extremities or abdomen, shortness of breath, and rapid weight gain.

Without treatment, hypervolemia can affect many areas of the body and cause severe complications. Treatment for hypervolemia may include diuretics, dialysis, or dietary changes.

Talk with your doctor if you are experiencing symptoms consistent with hypervolemia. Your doctor can also give you advice if you have an underlying condition that may cause hypervolemia.

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Medical Reviewer: Adam Bernstein, MD, ScD
Last Review Date: 2022 Aug 11
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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