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Treating Heart Failure with Diuretics

Diuretics, commonly known as "water pills," cause the kidneys to get rid of unneeded water and salt. Getting rid of excess fluid makes it easier for your heart to pump.

Diuretics are used to treat high blood pressure and reduce the swelling and water build-up caused by various medical problems, including heart failure. Diuretics also help to make breathing easier.

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There are several types of diuretics, including:

  • Lasix
  • Bumex
  • Demadex
  • HydroDIURIL
  • Zaroxolyn

How Do I Take Diuretics for Heart Failure?

Follow the label directions on how often to take your diuretic. If you are taking a single dose a day, take it in the morning with your breakfast or right afterwards. If you are taking more than one dose a day, take the last dose no later than 4 p.m.

The number of doses you take each day, the time allowed between doses, and how long you need to take the medication will depend on the type of diuretic prescribed, as well as your condition.

What Are the Side Effects of Diuretics?

Possible side effects of diuretics include:

  • Frequent urination: This may last for up to six hours after a dose.
  • Extreme tiredness or weakness: These effects should decrease as your body adjusts to the medication. Call your doctor if these symptoms persist.
  • Muscle cramps and thirst: Be sure that you are taking your potassium supplement correctly, if prescribed. Contact your doctor if these symptoms persist.
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness: Try rising more slowly when getting up from a lying or sitting position.
  • Blurred vision, confusion, headache, increased perspiration (sweating), restlessness: If these effects persist or are severe, contact your doctor.
  • Dehydration: Signs include dizziness, extreme thirst, excessive dryness of the mouth, decreased urine output, dark-colored urine, or constipation. If these symptoms occur, don't assume you need more fluids. Call your doctor right away.
  • Fever, sore throat, cough, ringing in the ears, unusual bleeding or bruising, rapid and excessive weight loss: Contact your doctor right away.
  • Skin rash: Stop taking the medication and contact your doctor right away.
  • Loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting: Be sure that you are taking your potassium supplement correctly, if prescribed. Contact your doctor.

Contact your doctor if you have any other symptoms that cause concern.

Should I Avoid Certain Food or Medications While on a Diuretic?

  • Diuretics are generally prescribed in combination with an ACE inhibitor, digoxin, and a beta-blocker. If you experience an increase in side effects after taking your medications together, contact your doctor. You may need to change the times you are taking each drug.
  • Potassium-sparing diuretics increase the effects of digoxin and lithium. They may increase your body's potassium level if taken with ACE inhibitors.
  • Before a diuretic is prescribed, tell your doctor if you are taking: other drugs for high blood pressure, digoxin, Indocin, lithium, probenecid, or corticosteroids (prednisone).
  • Before this drug is prescribed, tell your doctor if you have diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease, or gout.
  • Follow your doctor's dietary advice, which may include: following a low-salt diet, taking a potassium supplement, or including high-potassium foods (such as bananas and orange juice) in your diet. Note: some types of diuretics cause your body to lose potassium. If you are taking a "potassium-sparing" diuretic, your doctor may want you to avoid potassium-rich foods, salt substitutes, low-salt milk, and other dietary sources of potassium. If you are not sure what type of diuretic you are taking, ask your doctor.

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