Late Signs of Fluid Overloads

High blood pressure is a sign of fluid overload.
High blood pressure is a sign of fluid overload. (Image: Hemera Technologies/ Images)

Fluid overload, also called fluid volume excess or hypervolemia, is an excessive amount of fluid in the body’s blood. When a person has too much fluid in the body, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain a normal lifestyle. Watch for certain signs that will let a person know when to seek medical attention.


Several late signs of fluid overload include severe edema (swelling), high blood pressure, decreased hematocrit and hemoglobin and pulmonary congestion.


Edema typically occurs in the hands, feet and ankles. When it occurs in the feet and legs, it’s called peripheral edema. In certain types of diseases, excess fluid can build up in the blood vessels of the interstitial spaces (not within cells), or both. In the health care field, you may hear the term “pitting edema,” which is applying pressure to a swollen area, and that pressure causes an indentation that persists for a period of time after the release of the pressure. Causes of edema include systemic diseases involving the kidney, liver and heart.

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a serious condition that can lead to a heart attack or a stroke. If the blood pressure gets too high and stays high, it will damage the body. Symptoms include dull headaches, dizziness and nosebleeds; although, these typically don’t happen until high blood pressure has reached life-threatening conditions. Some causes of hypertension include kidney problems, adrenal gland tumors, certain medications and illegal drugs.

Hemoglobin and Hematocrit

Hemoglobin is a specific protein within the red blood cells that delivers oxygen to the body’s tissues. The normal levels of hemoglobin are between 14-18 for males and 12-16 for females. If these levels get low, the patient will have anemia. When a person has too much fluid in their system, this will thin out the blood (dilute), making it harder to maintain the normal amount of red blood cells. Hematocrit is simply the amount of red blood cells compared to that of the total blood volume (red blood cells and plasma). Normal hematocrit values are 40 to 54 percent for men and 36 to 48 percent for women. When a person has too much fluid in the blood, the hematocrit levels will be much lower than their actual level.

Pulmonary Congestion

Pulmonary congestion, also called pulmonary edema, is the excessive build-up of fluid in the air sacs of the lungs. When a person has an overload of fluid in the body, the fluid builds up in places it’s not supposed to be. Symptoms of pulmonary congestion include difficulty breathing, excessive sweating, a feeling of drowning, gurgling sounds when breathing, pale skin, shortness of breath and wheezing. Causes include direct damage to the lungs, side effect of certain medications or severe trauma.

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