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Diuretics are medicines that help reduce the amount of water in the body.
Diuretics are used to treat the buildup of excess fluid in the body that occurs with some medical conditions such as congestive heart failure, liver disease, and kidney disease. Some diuretics are also prescribed to treat high blood pressure. These drugs act on the kidneys to increase urine output. This reduces the amount of fluid in the bloodstream, which in turn lowers blood pressure.
There are several types of diuretics, also called water pills:
In addition, some medicines contain combinations of two diuretics. The brands Dyazide and Maxzide, for example, contain the thiazide diuretic hydrochlorothiazide with the potassium-sparing diuretic triamterene.
Some nonprescription (over-the-counter) medicines contain diuretics. However, the medicines described here cannot be bought without a physician's prescription. They are available in tablet, capsule, liquid, and injectable forms.
The recommended dosage depends on the type of diuretic and may be different for different patients. Check with the physician who prescribed the drug or the pharmacist who filled the prescription for the correct dosage, and take the medicine exactly as directed.
Seeing a physician regularly while taking a diuretic is important. The physician will check to make sure the medicine is working as it should and will watch for unwanted side effects.
Some people feel unusually tired when they first start taking diuretics. This effect usually becomes less noticeable over time, as the body adjusts to the medicine.
Because diuretics increase urine output, people who take this medicine may need to urinate more often, even during the night. Health care professionals can help patients schedule their doses to avoid interfering with their sleep or regular activities.
For patients taking the kinds of diuretics that rob potassium from the body, physicians may recommend adding potassium-rich foods or drinks, such as citrus fruits and juices, to the diet. Or they may suggest taking a potassium supplement or taking another medicine that keeps the body from losing too much potassium. If the physician recommends any of these measures, be sure to closely follow his or her directions. Do not make other diet changes without checking with the physician. People who are taking potassium-sparing diuretics should not add potassium to their diets, as too much potassium may be harmful.
People who take diuretics may lose too much water or potassium when they get sick, especially if they have severe vomiting and diarrhea. They should check with their physicians if they become ill.
These medicines make some people feel lightheaded, dizzy, or faint when they get up after sitting or lying down. Older people are especially likely to have this problem. Drinking alcohol, exercising, standing for long periods, or being in hot weather may make the problem worse. To lessen the problem, get up gradually and hold onto something for support if possible. Avoid drinking too much alcohol and be careful in hot weather or when exercising or standing for a long time.
Anyone who is taking a diuretic should be sure to tell the health care professional in charge before having surgical or dental procedures, medical tests or emergency treatment.
Some diuretics make the skin more sensitive to sunlight. Even brief exposure to sun can cause a severe sunburn, itching, a rash, redness, or other changes in skin color. While being treated with this medicine, avoid being in direct sunlight, especially between 10 a.m. and 3p.m.; wear a hat and tightly woven clothing that covers the arms and legs; use a sunscreen with a skin protection factor (SPF) of at least 15; protect the lips with a sun block lipstick; and do not use tanning beds, tanning booths, or sunlamps. People with fair skin may need to use a sunscreen with a higher skin protection factor.
Author Info: Nancy Ross-Flanigan, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, 2002
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