If you have been diagnosed with a heart-related disorder or hypertension, your doctor may have prescribed a long list of medications to manage your condition. One of those medicines could be a diuretic, commonly known as a ‘water pill’. The generic names of the most commonly used diuretics are furosemide and chlorothiazide. The Cardiac Society of India has also stated that water pills are the mainstay therapy for heart failure.1
What are water pills, and what do they do?
Water pills (or diuretics) are things that make your bladder fill up more frequently, similar to coffee and tea. Water pills help eliminate excess water and sodium from the body. This, in turn, reduces the volume of blood to be pumped by the heart, thereby reducing its workload. It also helps eliminate the build-up of fluid in the lungs and reduces the swelling that people with a failing heart experience in their ankles. So, where does the water go, you may ask? The water pills remove all the excess water via urination, which means you’ll be having frequent trips to the loo.2
How do water pills precisely remove the excess water?
There are several types of diuretics (Thiazide, loop and potassium-sparing are common ones) available and all of them work in slightly different ways, but the common thread that binds them is that they all eliminate excess water and sodium.
Thiazide and loop diuretics work to reduce potassium levels. Your doctor will encourage you to eat more potassium-rich foods and beverages and limit salt intake if you will get these under his/her prescription. Potassium-sparing diuretics, however, circumvent the issue of potassium loss. But, because of this, sometimes if potassium levels become too high, it can cause dangerous heart rhythm problems and even cardiac arrest.
People with high blood pressure or heart failure are usually told to moderate their salt and sodium consumption. So, people who take potassium-sparing diuretics should be careful on that front. Taking a potassium-sparing diuretic may be especially important if you have heart failure. Heart failure patients taking the potassium-sparing diuretic are less likely to die or be hospitalized than those taking only regular diuretics. If you take any diuretic medication, ask your doctor whether you need periodic testing of your potassium and kidney function.3,4
Depending on the requirement of your body, the doctor will prescribe one for you.
Do water pills have any side-effects?
Other than increased urination, sometimes, water pills can cause dehydration and make you feel dizzy. Since they modulate the levels of sodium and potassium in the body, some diuretics may even lead to muscle cramps. Some men may experience erectile dysfunction too. Fatigue and lightheadedness may also occur if you take diuretics. Remember to sip on enough water, or you may have a dry mouth.
Speak with your doctor if the symptoms seem too difficult to withstand. Your doctor might change your dose and advise regular blood tests, including kidney function tests, to know how the medicines are affecting your organs. As a routine, the doctor may also ask you to keep an eye on your weight. An increase or decrease in weight could tell you whether the medication is working for you.5
All in all, those frequent trips to the loo will help you manage your symptoms of heart failure. Although taking diuretics doesn’t reduce the fatality rates from heart failure, they make living with a heart condition easier. So, if you are taking diuretics, this doesn’t mean you should gulp down extra salt along with your food. Your body needs to be treated the right way. Let the medicines do their job, and you can focus on following a healthy lifestyle to keep your mind, soul and body functioning just right!
- Guha S, Harikrishnan S, Ray S, Sethi R, Ramakrishnan S, Banerjee S, et al. CSI position statement on the management of heart failure in India. Indian Heart J. 2018 Jul;70(Suppl 1):S1-S72. doi:10.1016/j.ihj.2018.05.003.
- Medications used to treat heart failure [Internet]. [updated 2017 May 31; cited 2019 Jul 24]. Available from: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-failure/treatment-options-for-heart-failure/medications-used-to-treat-heart-failure.
- .Harvard Health Publishing. Tips for taking diuretic medications – Harvard Health [Internet]. Harvard Health. Harvard Health; 2019 [cited 2020 Apr 28]. Available from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/tips-for-taking-diuretic-medications
- Harvard Health Publishing. Low potassium levels from diuretics – Harvard Health [Internet]. Harvard Health. Harvard Health; 2017 [cited 2020 Apr 28]. Available from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/low-potassium-levels-from-diuretics
- Julie Corliss. Tips for taking diuretic medications [Internet]. 2017 Jan [cited 2019 Jul 24]. Available from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/tips-for-taking-diuretic-medications.