#283 5 Best Ways to Fix Atrial Fibrillation Water Retention

5 Best Ways to Fix Atrial Fibrillation Water Retention

No one wants swollen legs.  Besides the unsightly appearance, it often hurts.  With a few simple tweaks, fluid retention can be eliminated for most people.  In this article, I’ll share the five best ways to fix atrial fibrillation water retention.

Sarah’s Story

Sarah was 52 years old.  All her life her weight was a little higher than it should have been.  In addition to carrying the extra weight, she was also recently diagnosed with pre-diabetes and high blood pressure.  All told, she was on six prescription medications for her atrial fibrillation, hypertension, and pre-diabetes.

At the end of each day, her legs would swell up.  The swelling was terrible on the days she ate out or was on her feet a lot. However, nothing could compare to the days when her heart went out of rhythm.  On those days, the atrial fibrillation water retention was especially bad.

Her primary care physician wanted to put her on diuretics.  But given her family history of kidney problems, she didn’t want to take any medications that might harm the kidneys.  She came to see me for a second opinion.

Fortunately, we were able to quickly rule out heart failure, kidney failure, and liver failure as the cause of her fluid retention.  In her case, we had to optimize her lifestyle and keep her in sinus rhythm.

What Causes Leg Swelling?

While everyone immediately worries about the heart when the legs swell, fortunately, the heart is usually not the cause of the problem.  The primary cause of leg swelling is chronic venous insufficiency.  What this means is that the valves in the veins of the legs are not functioning properly.

If you think about it, these valves in the veins of the leg are asked to perform a difficult task.  They have to fight gravity in returning the blood from your big toe all the way back to your heart.  How they do this is that they have to open and close every time you move the muscles in your leg.

Conditions like obesity, physical inactivity, poor diet, history of blood clots, etc. can all cause chronic venous insufficiency.  While chronic venous insufficiency is the leading cause of leg swelling, sometimes leg swelling can be due to the heart.

Does Atrial Fibrillation Cause Leg Swelling?

When the heart goes into atrial fibrillation, the upper chambers of the heart stop pumping.  With the loss of the atrial contribution, you lose at least 20% of your cardiac performance.

If you are already prone to leg swelling from being overweight, eating a poor diet, or not exercising much, then atrial fibrillation could definitely make things worse.  Indeed, the older you get, the more likely atrial fibrillation water retention will be an issue for you.

5 Best Ways to Fix Atrial Fibrillation Water Retention

Besides keeping the heart in sinus rhythm, there are many things you can do to avoid leg swelling. Below are the five best ways to fix atrial fibrillation water retention.

1.  Eat High Fiber

Fiber helps to suck any extra water out of your body.  Fiber isn’t digested, and it pulls large amounts of water with it as it travels through your gut.

While our government recommends somewhere around 30 grams of fiber each day, this number can’t even begin to compare to what our ancestors used to eat.  Indeed, many experts peg hunter-gatherer diets close to 150 grams of fiber daily.

While 150 grams of fiber is out of reach for most modern people, my goal is to get 100 grams daily.  When it comes to fiber, health, and longevity the more, you get the better off you will be.  To read more about fiber, here is an excellent article I wrote.

2. Eliminate Sugar and Flour

Not only will sugar and flour mess up your metabolism and cause intense weight gain, but they also act as a magnet to water.  Indeed, it is for this reason that people drop water weight fast when they go on a low carb diet.

If you are like me and you can’t give up your sweet tooth, there are other options.  For example, I satisfy my sweet tooth with stevia-sweetened dark chocolate.  This delicious treat is very low carb and very heart healthy.  Instead of eating the traditional whole wheat bread, I like the Ezekiel flourless bread.  Because there is no flour, you don’t get the sugar spike.

3. Eliminate Processed Foods

Every doctor will tell you to limit the salt if you are retaining water.  And there is a good reason for this advice.  As with sugar and flour, sodium acts as a magnet for water.

When it comes to sodium, the problem isn’t the salt shaker. Instead, the problem is with processed foods, fast foods, and restaurant foods.  Processed foods, fast foods, and restaurant foods easily account for 80% of the sodium in the diet.

As strange as it may seem, I actually don’t mind my patients using the salt shaker provided they are not going crazy with the salt. The reason for this is because if they are using the salt shaker, then they are probably preparing their own foods at home.

4. Break a Sweat Every Day

When it comes to atrial fibrillation water retention, exercise is a must.  Vigorous physical activity causes you to lose both the excessive sodium and water in your body.  In addition to the salt and water loss, exercise also helps the valves in your veins get the fluid back to the heart where it can be put to good use.

How you exercise is really up to you.  The important thing is that you never let a day go by without breaking a sweat doing some form of physical activity.

5. Keep Your BMI Below 25

Even if you are eating right and exercising daily, studies show that if your body mass index (BMI) is over 25 you are prone to water retention.  The exception to this observation is the person who lifts for muscle bulk.  Indeed, in powerlifters, the BMI calculations may be completely inaccurate.

To find out your BMI, please click this link.  If your BMI is over 25, it can be easily corrected.  By simply following every item on this list, your BMI will be below 25 in no time at all.

Better yet, if you are physically fit with a BMI below 25, then you have an excellent chance of driving your atrial fibrillation into remission without drugs or procedures.  Nothing would fix atrial fibrillation water retention faster than putting your arrhythmia into remission!

Sarah’s Story Revisited

Fortunately for Sarah, she eagerly accepted the challenge of fixing the atrial fibrillation water retention problem naturally.  Within just six months of eating high fiber, eliminating sugar, flour, and processed foods, as well as exercising every day, she quickly dropped 50 pounds.

This 50-pound weight loss gave her a BMI of 23.8.  It also drove her fluid retention challenges, atrial fibrillation, high blood pressure, and pre-diabetes into remission.  No longer did she need the six prescription medications she was previously taking.

Practical Tips

You don’t need to suffer from atrial fibrillation water retention.  And you also probably don’t need to take diuretics to get the water off.  Unless fluid retention resulted from end-stage heart failure, kidney failure, or liver failure, in the 23 years since I graduated from medical school, I can’t think of a patient who required diuretics who faithfully followed all five things discussed in this article.


Please speak with your physician first before embarking on natural alternatives to diuretics.  For example, you may have an underlying medical condition which could make a high fiber diet or vigorous exercise dangerous for you.  Likewise, fluid retention may be the first sign of a life-threatening heart, kidney, or liver disease.  Use common sense and please be in close communication with your doctor.

Disclaimer Policy: This website is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. This website does not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Dr. John Day. If you have a medical problem, immediately contact your healthcare provider. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Dr. John Day is not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your medical decisions.

  1. I’ve been reviewing your article about flax seeds vs chia seeds, and wondered if you have any thoughts on whether buying flax seeds already ground (like the big package they have at Costco) preserves their goodness vs grinding them yourself? I know with some grains, fresh ground is best as the B vitamins can be lost over time. Have you ever heard if the same goes for flax?

    • Hi Margot,

      Great question. Personally, I like the whole flax seeds. For me, this is all about texture and mouthfeel. I like the crunchiness. I add whole flax seeds to my nut butter.

      Of course, if you don’t chew the whole flax seeds they will come out the other end undigested. Thus, you have to thoroughly chew whole flax seeds to uncover the nutrition. And it is for this reason that most nutrition experts recommend that you eat the ground flax seeds.

      At the end of the day, I’m not sure how much it matters to do it one way versus the other…The only thing to remember is that if you choose whole flax seeds is that you will lose some of the nutrition out the other end.

      Hope this helps!