Feeling tired? Swollen? Or maybe you have some swelling in your feet or hands, excess body weight or you have been told you have high blood pressure. A common remedy for some of these conditions might be to get diuretics to help reduce water retention in the body. In fact, many people are taking or being treated with diuretics and may not know how these medications work in the body. Even more important is to know if they are as useful as we want to believe?
Diuretics, sometimes called water pills, are most commonly used to treat a variety of conditions, such as high blood pressure, glaucoma and edema (swelling of excess fluid or inflammation). Since the human body is more than 70-75% water, it is important to ensure that it flows smoothly through the body and out of the body. Certain medical conditions can cause an interruption in the flow of water throughout the body, and inhibit the release of water and sodium through the urine. When the body has a problem that regulates the amount of water, it can cause the fluid to accumulate in the system that leads to other disruptions of bodily functions.
How are they used normally?
Diuretics are designed to help your body get rid of extra fluids causing a person to “lose water” and sodium that has accumulated over time. This is done in different ways. Thiazide diuretics (eg, chlorothiazide, chlorthalidone and hydrochlorothiazide) inhibit the kidney’s ability to reabsorb sodium, thus forcing sodium to release into the urine. They are used to treat high blood pressure by reducing the amount of sodium and water in the body. Loop-acting diuretics (eg, amiloride, eplerenone, and spironolactone) are commonly used to treat heart failure by causing the kidneys to increase urine flow. This helps reduce the amount of sodium, chlorine and water in your body which in turn helps to lower blood pressure.
Potassium-sparing diuretics (eg, Bumetanide, Ethacrynic acid, Furosemide) are used to reduce the amount of water in the body. Unlike other diuretic medications, these do not cause your body to lose potassium. While medications are the main form of diuretics, other types of diuretics may include substances found in foods and beverages such as coffee, tea, alcoholic beverages.
Diuretics used to treat medical conditions are generally safe for use as prescribed by a physician. However, they do have some important side effects, such as increased micturition and mineral loss. People may develop too much potassium (hyperkalemia) if they are taking a potassium-sparing diuretic. Considering that taking a thiazide diuretic can cause hypokalemia (too little potassium). Other side effects include: low sodium in the blood, dizziness, headaches, dehydration, muscle cramps, joint disorders (eg gout) and impotence (less common).
A weight loss solution?
A common side effect of taking diuretics is the rapid loss of body water that can lead to significant weight reduction. Many people consider this decrease in water weight as an added benefit of diuretics, and is likely to use them as a short-term weight loss product. Unfortunately, there are some potential problems with using it as a primary method for weight loss.
First, rapid loss of water can lead to dehydration. This can be very dangerous when the body is not able to replenish water fast enough to maintain the body’s necessary functions. Severe dehydration can be fatal or lead to death in some extreme cases.
The second problem is that weight loss experienced with diuretics does not last. Several studies have shown that as soon as people stop taking water pills, the weight returns quickly. While the body may be the desire for water, the mind may interpret this craving as a need for food. Therefore, you are more likely to reach for that mid-day snack or enjoy a high-carbohydrate, high-calorie meal.
And lastly, let’s not forget the headaches, mood swings, depression, fatigue and other psychological disorders associated with rapid water weight loss. People with severe mental health problems or eating disorders may be especially susceptible to the harsh effects of taking diuretics as a way to keep weight under control.
Are diuretics useful or harmful? The answer is Both.