Diuretics are often called water pills. They affect the balance of fluid in your body. Diuretics make the kidneys:
They can be used to help manage many health issues. The most common are heart disease, kidney disease, or high blood pressure. There are different types of diuretics including:
Diuretics may be prescribed to treat:
Your doctor may start with a small amount of medicine. The amount will be increased step by step until it improves your health. It will be important to see your doctor as planned. This will help your doctor find the amount of medicine that is best for you. The amount of medicine may also need to be changed if you have strong side effects.
Diuretics will affect how your body reacts. Let your doctor or dentist know about any medicine you are taking. Share this info with your care team. Let them know before surgery, dental work, or other medical care.
Some diuretics can cause you to lose too much potassium. This is most true with thiazide and loop diuretics. To help you keep a healthy potassium level, your doctor may recommend that you:
Other steps that may help include:
Not all diuretics cause a loss of potassium. Changes to your diet may not be needed.
Diuretics are not useful for swelling from pregnancy. They should not be taken during pregnancy unless your doctor says it is safe.
Diuretics are not used for mothers who are breastfeeding. Some medicine can pass to the baby through breastmilk.
Tell your doctor about any medicine you are taking. Some should not be taken with diuretics. Others may need to be adjusted.
Over-the counter medicine can cause some problems. Check with your doctor before taking any other medicine. Cold, cough, and allergy medicine can cause problems for people with high blood pressure.
Other health issues can also affect how you respond to medicine. Make sure your doctor is aware of any other health issues you have. This includes diabetes, kidney, liver, heart, and immune system problems.
Diuretics can sometimes cause dizziness. It is most common when you get up from a lying or sitting down. It can sometimes lead to fainting.
Try to slow down when getting up. Alcohol, standing for a long time, intense exercise, or hot weather can make it worse. Tell your doctor if the problems happen often or get worse.
Your skin may become more sensitive to the sun. This may lead to a rash, itch, redness, or sunburn. It may occur even after short periods of time in the sun. To help protect your skin:
Tell your doctor if you have had a severe reaction to the sun.
Take each dose at the same time each day. The medicine will make you urinate more. Try to take it early in the day so that it does not wake you up at night to urinate.
Medicine can sometimes upset your stomach. In this case, try to take it with food or drink. Tell your doctor if stomach upset continues or gets worse. Also, let your doctor know if you have sudden, severe diarrhea.
If you miss a dose, take it as soon as possible. If it is almost time for your next dose, skip the missed dose. Go back to your schedule. Do not double doses.
Side effect can vary among the different types of diuretics but may include:
Most will do well on diuretics. If you are having problems talk to your doctor. Changing the amount may help. Your doctor may also recommend a different medicine.
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
USP—The United States Pharmacopeial Convention
Canadian Pharmacists Association
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Diuretics. US National Library of Medicine website. Available at: https://livertox.nlm.nih.gov//Diuretics.htm. Updated October 16, 2017. Accessed November 13, 2017.
Hydrochlorothiazide. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T233199/Hydrochlorothiazide. Updated November 6, 2017. Accessed November 13, 2017.
Hyperkalemia. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115641/Hyperkalemia. Updated June 13, 2016. Accessed November 13, 2017.
Hypertension. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115345/Hypertension. Updated August 17, 2017. Accessed November 13, 2017.
Hypokalemia. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115951/Hypokalemia. Updated September 17, 2015. Accessed November 13, 2017.
Sunscreen FAQs. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: https://www.aad.org/media/stats/prevention-and-care/sunscreen-faqs. Accessed November 13, 2017.
Last reviewed August 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board
Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Last Updated: 8/13/2018