Diuretics: Overview

Alternative names: Diuretic, Water Pill, Water Pills.

A diuretic is a drug or other substance that increases a person's urine and salt excretion.

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There are three types of diuretic: thiazide, loop and potassium-sparing.  Each affects a different part of the kidneys, and each has different uses and side-effects.  Which diuretic is best depends on a person's health and on the condition being treated.

Diuretics are often abused by sufferers of eating disorders, especially bulimics, in attempts at weight loss.


There are many easily available diuretic drugs available.  For those who prefer the natural approach, natural diuretics include:

  • Green tea, used for centuries in China
  • Cranberry juice
  • Apple cider vinegar has natural diuretic properties and also helps maintain potassium levels in the blood
  • Dandelion, nettle and fennel.

Function; Why it is Recommended

Diuretics help rid the body of water and salt by making the kidneys excrete more sodium into the urine.  The sodium takes water with it, increasing urine output and decreasing the amount of fluid flowing through the blood vessels, which in turn reduces pressure on the walls of the arteries.

The blood-pressure-lowering actions of some diuretics (thiazides and loop diuretics in particular) are unrelated to their diuretic effect: the reduction in blood pressure is not due to decreased blood volume, but occurs through other mechanisms and at lower doses.

Getting rid of excess salt and water helps lower blood pressure and makes it easier for the heart to pump blood.  For this reason, diuretics are used in the treatment of several heart-related conditions.

Some diuretics, such as acetazolamide, help to make the urine more alkaline and help to increasing excretion of substances such as aspirin in cases of overdose or poisoning.


While taking diuretics, doctors usually recommend having blood pressure and kidney function tested regularly.  A low-salt diet is often recommended, as well as potassium supplements or foods high in potassium.

Side-Effects; Counter-Indicators and Warnings

Side-effects include:

  • Frequent urination for up to several hours after a dose
  • Arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm)
  • Electrolyte imbalance. Blood chemistry monitoring for electrolytes, as well as kidney function, is important before and during diuretic use.
  • Extreme tiredness or weakness. This side-effect should decrease over time.
  • Muscle cramps or weakness. If prescribed potassium supplements, make sure you take them correctly.
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion
  • Headaches
  • Increased sweating
  • Restlessness
  • Dehydration. This can lead to possible dizziness, severe thirst, dry mouth, decreased urination, dark urine, constipation.
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Unusual bleeding or bruising
  • Rapid and excessive weight loss
  • Skin rash
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle cramps
  • Breast enlargement or tenderness in men (potassium-sparing diuretics)
  • Deepening of the voice in women (potassium-sparing diuretics)
  • Decreased hair growth (potassium-sparing diuretics)
  • Irregular menstrual cycles (potassium-sparing diuretics)
  • Sulfa drug allergic reaction (most diuretics are sulfa drugs)

Alcohol and sleep medications may increase side-effects and should be avoided.

It is not advisable to take diuretics while pregnant or breast-feeding.

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Diuretics can help with the following:


Congestive Heart Failure

Potassium-sparing diuretics such as Aldactone or Dyrenium help the body to retain potassium and are often used in congestive heart failure patients, often along with the other two types of diuretics.  They do not significantly lower blood pressure.

Loop diuretics such as Lasix or Bumex are often used to counter congestive heart failure symptoms and are especially useful in emergencies.  They do not, however, significantly lower blood pressure.  Thiazide diuretics, such as Esidrix or Zaroxolyn, can be used to treat edema in heart failure.

Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)

Thiazide diuretics, such as Esidrix or Zaroxolyn, can be used to lower blood pressure.

Eyes / Ocular





Meniere's Disease

Meniere's disease patients are often given a diuretic such as Dyazide in order to reduce nausea symptoms and shorten attacks.


Osteoporosis - Osteopenia

Some diuretics are useful against osteoporosis: Thiazides lower urinary calcium excretion, resulting in a positive calcium balance and increased bone mineral density and a reduction in fracture rates due to osteoporosis.  For reasons not fully understood, thiazides also stimulate bone mineral formation, which helps to slow the course of osteoporosis.

Neck / Spine

Organ Health

Kidney Stones (Urolithiasis)

Thiazides lower urinary calcium excretion, which helps prevent calcium-based kidney stone formation.

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