Diuretics, also called water
pills, belong to a class of medications that are designed to increase the loss
of water and salt from the body. This is done in different ways depending on
the drug. There are a few different types of disorders that are treated with
diuretics. They include high blood pressure, heart failure, diabetes, edema,
and some types of liver and kidney disease.
There are three different
kinds of diuretics that your doctor might prescribe for you. They are called
thiazide, loop, and potassium-sparing diuretics. Diuretics are generally safe
to take, but there are some possible side effects and interactions with other
drugs that can occur.
Purpose of Using Diuretics
Your doctor may prescribe
you diuretics to get rid of excess fluids in your body. There are several
different medical conditions that can cause your body to build up too much
fluid. You may also take diuretics to treat high blood pressure. By reducing
the amount of fluid in your blood vessels, your blood pressure decreases.
Of those conditions in which
excess fluids build up in your body, congestive heart failure (CHF) is the one
most commonly treated with diuretics. If you have CHF, your heart is not
circulating blood effectively and this results in a buildup of fluids
throughout your body, also known as edema.
Other, more rare conditions
can cause an excess of fluids and be treated with diuretics. These include edema
caused by reasons other than CHF, such as diabetes, and certain types of kidney
and liver disease.
Types of Diuretics
There are three different
types of diuretic medications. They all increase the excretion of fluids from
your body, but each does so in a different way. The most commonly prescribed
type of diuretic is called thiazide.
Thiazides are most
commonly used to treat high blood pressure. This is because, in addition to
decreasing retained fluids, they also cause your blood vessels to widen.
Examples of thiazides include chlorothiazide, hydrochlorothiazide, metolazone,
remove excess fluid by causing your kidneys to make more urine. This results in
the removal of water and salts. Loop diuretics include torsemide, furosemide,
bumetanide, and ethacrynic acid.
diuretics, like amiloride, spironolactone, triamterene, and eplerenone, cause
your body to get rid of excess fluids. They do this without causing you to lose
potassium, an important nutrient. The other diuretics do cause you to lose
potassium, which can cause health problems in some people. Potassium-sparing
diuretics do not reduce blood pressure as well as the other types, so you may
be prescribed this type in combination with another drug.
Risks Associated with Diuretics
Diuretics are generally
safe, but there are some risks if you have other medical conditions or if you
are taking certain other medications. Before you take a prescribed diuretic,
make sure you tell your doctor if you have any of the following conditions or
- kidney problems
Any time you begin a new
medication, you should tell your doctor all of the other drugs, supplements, or
herbs that you are taking. Certain medications, in particular, may interact
negatively with diuretics:
- digitalis or
- other drugs for
high blood pressure
Side Effects of Diuretics
Diuretics are safe for most
people to take, but there are some possible side effects. The most common is
increased urination, especially with loop diuretics. In rare cases diuretics
may cause impotence or an irregular heartbeat. Some common side effects include
(Mayo Clinic, 2010):
- too much or too
little potassium in the blood
- low sodium
- increased blood
- muscle cramps
- skin rash
- joint pain
- increased light
If you experience side
effects when taking diuretics, speak with your doctor. The common side effect
of increased urination usually subsides after a few weeks on the medication,
but others may persist. Together with your doctor you can try different
medications until you find one or a combination that works best for you and
minimizes side effects. Regardless of the side effects, do not stop taking your
medication without first speaking to your doctor.