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.
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.
How do water pills precisely remove the excess water?
There are several types of diuretics available nowadays. All of them work in slightly different ways, but the common thread that binds them is that they all eliminate excess water and sodium.
Furosemide and chlorothiazide act on different parts of the kidney to help with reducing blood pressure.. Both these diuretics cause your kidneys to increase urine production and its flow; thus, reducing the water load on your heart and consequently reducing your blood pressure. Chlorothiazide also may have additional blood pressure-reducing effects because of its indirect dilation of the blood vessels; thus, reducing the extra force your heart needs to apply during a beat. Medicines from both these diuretic groups decrease the amount of potassium in your body. The third group of diuretics is the potassium-sparing diuretics, which, as the name suggests, do not remove potassium from the body.
Depending on the requirement of your body, the doctor will prescribe one of these diuretics.
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.
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,1 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.
- Diuretics [Internet]. [cited 2019 Jul 24]. Available from: https://www.texasheart.org/heart-health/heart-information-center/topics/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.