What Are the Side Effects of Water Pills?

Melanie Smeltzer
Melanie Smeltzer
A sore throat can be a serious side effect of water pills.
A sore throat can be a serious side effect of water pills.

Water pills are drugs that are frequently used to treat edema, liver and kidney issues, high blood pressure, and other heart-related problems, but are also sometimes used to reduce water weight. Although these medications can be effective at treating a number of conditions, they may also result in some undesirable reactions. Some of the side effects of water pills can include frequent urination or dehydration, stomach or digestive complaints, and flu-like symptoms.

Severe cases of dehydration may require treatment through an IV line.
Severe cases of dehydration may require treatment through an IV line.

Since this type of medication is used to flush excess salt and water from the system, some of the side effects of water pills may be the result of a deficiency in certain minerals like sodium or potassium. The symptoms of a sodium deficiency may include muscle cramps, fatigue and disorientation, nausea, and headaches. Over time, this deficiency may also cause seizures, a decrease in muscle functioning, and neurological complications. Potassium deficiencies can result in diarrhea or vomiting, depression, nervousness or irritability, edema, or salt retention. Sometimes people may experience an increase of heart-related problems such as an irregular heartbeat, lowered blood pressure, or, in rare cases, cardiac arrest.

Lowered blood pressure is a possible side effect of water pills.
Lowered blood pressure is a possible side effect of water pills.

Although there are some side effects of water pills that may be relatively harmless or easily treated with a secondary medication or supplement, others may require medical intervention. For instance, a doctor should be contacted right away if the patient experiences flu-like symptoms such as a sore throat, cough, or fever, or if the patient notices a skin rash, ringing in the ears, unusual bleeding, or bruising of the skin. Some side effects may be resolved over time, but a doctor should be contacted if they become persistent or severe. These symptoms can include an increase of perspiration, extreme fatigue or weakness, blurred vision, or confusion.

Water pills have been used to help individuals lose weight.
Water pills have been used to help individuals lose weight.

Urinary and hydration-related side effects of water pills are common and usually resolve on their own, but may also require medical attention if they become severe. One of these issues includes frequent urination, which usually passes within a few hours of taking these medications. Dehydration, on the other hand, often requires a visit to a doctor or emergency room. The symptoms of dehydration can include excessive thirst or dry mouth, a marked decrease in urination or dark-colored urine, constipation, or dizziness. Although milder cases of dehydration may be taken care of at home with drinks containing electrolytes and carbohydrates or juice, more severe cases may require fluid replacement through an intravenous (IV) line.

How Much Water Should I Drink While Taking Water Pills?

Diuretics may cause people to urinate frequently.
Diuretics may cause people to urinate frequently.

Although you may think that you need to increase your water intake to compensate for the loss of fluid when you take water pills, this is not the case. You must keep your hydration levels balanced, so it's important to maintain a normal water intake. Over or under consuming fluid can cause dehydration or reverse the effects of water pills. Most healthy adults should aim for eight glasses of water each day when taking water pills to maintain hydration, although doctors may advise patients with certain conditions such as heart failure to consume slightly less water.

What Is the Best Way To Maintain Hydration While Taking Water Pills?

For most people, maintaining their normal water intake is enough to keep their bodies hydrated while taking water pills. You may need to add electrolyte drinks into your routine if you notice signs of dehydration. Minor dehydration can usually be self-treated, but if symptoms persist, you should seek the care of your doctor immediately because you may need intravenous fluids to rehydrate your body. Call your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms persistently:

  • Dark yellow or brown urine
  • Dry mouth
  • Excessive thirst
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness

How Much Weight Can You Lose With Water Pills?

Because diuretics cause your body to shed excess water, you may see rapid weight loss for the first few weeks of taking water pills. The amount of weight you can lose varies depending on how much water weight your body carries. You can expect to lose anywhere from 0.5 to 14 pounds within the first week or two of taking water pills.

Should Water Pills Be Used for Weight Loss?

Water pills are not a good solution for long-term weight loss. Although they may cause you to shed weight rapidly for the first few weeks of taking diuretics, your weight loss should plateau as your body gets used to the medication and you learn to balance your hydration. If you stop taking the water pills, you may regain the water weight. You should only take water pills to help treat certain medical conditions instead of relying on them for weight loss.

How Fast Do Water Pills Work?

Water pills typically start working within two hours of taking them. You may need to urinate more often than usual for a few hours after taking diuretics. Side effects may last for several hours after taking a diuretic.

How Should You Take Water Pills?

You must stick to a strict schedule when taking water pills. Depending on why you need water pills, your doctor may prescribe one or two daily doses. If you need a second dose, take it no later than 4 P.M. each day so that the side effects end before you go to bed. This habit will help you sleep through the night rather than getting up several times to use the toilet.

Are There Different Types of Water Pills?

There are three categories of diuretics. If you need to keep your body from shedding potassium but need to get rid of water and salt, your doctor may recommend potassium-sparing diuretics. Thiazide-like water pills are the most common and can be used for long periods of time. Loop diuretics are the most powerful type of water pill and should only be used in emergencies.

Should You Change Your Diet While Taking Water Pills?

Your diet may need to change depending on which type of water pill you take. If you're prescribed a Thiazide-like diuretic, you may need to increase your intake of potassium-rich foods such as spinach, bananas, lentils and sweet potatoes. You may need to reduce your salt and potassium intake if you are taking potassium-sparing diuretics.

Who Should Take Water Pills?

Diuretics can be a useful tool for treating a variety of medical conditions. Although water pills may contribute to rapid weight loss initially, they should not be used for this reason. The can be used to help people manage the following conditions:

  • Heart failure
  • Edema
  • Glaucoma
  • Kidney problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Liver problems

How Do You Know If You Should Take Water Pills?

Water pills can help treat many medical conditions, but there are a few risks, including possible dehydration. You should only use water pills under the direction of a doctor. If you think diuretics may be helpful for managing a health problem, speak with your doctor to see if you are a good candidate for water pills. A medical professional can determine which type of diuretic is best for you.

Are Water Pills Bad for Your Kidneys?

Taking water pills is not directly harmful to your kidneys, but if you become dehydrated while taking them, dehydration can have a negative impact on your kidney function. Water helps the blood vessels remain open so that blood can carry nutrients to the kidneys.

Mild dehydration can reduce the efficiency of kidney function. Severe dehydration may cause kidney damage. Chronic dehydration can cause permanent kidney damage.

Dehydration causes wastes and acids to accumulate in the body. These substances may clog the kidneys with muscle proteins. Dehydration may also contribute to the development of urinary tract infections and kidney stones. Both of these conditions can lead to kidney damage. Avoiding dehydration can help prevent these issues.

What Are Thiazide Diuretics?

Thiazides are the most common type of water pills. They are usually used to treat high blood pressure. They work by reducing fluids in the body and by relaxing blood vessels. They are sometimes combined with other blood pressure medications, such as chlorthalidone, metolazone, hydrochlorothiazide and indapamide.

What Are Loop Diuretics?

Loop diuretics are used for treating heart failure. Torsemide, bumetanide and furosemide are types of loop diuretics.

What Are Potassium-Sparing Diuretics?

Potassium-sparing diuretics reduce fluid levels in the body without the associated potassium loss that often occurs with other water pills. They are usually prescribed to people who are at an increased risk of low potassium levels.

This type of water pill isn't as effective at lowering blood pressure as other types. For that reason, it is often combined with other blood pressure medications. Examples of potassium-sparing diuretics include amiloride, spironolactone, triamterene and eplerenone.

Which Drugs Interact With Water Pills?

Medications, herbs and supplements sometimes have undesirable interactions with water pills. Some medications known to interact with waters pills are cyclosporine, lithium, antidepressants, digoxin and other blood pressure medications.

Are There Any Natural Diuretics?

Hawthorn, parsley and black and green tea may all have diuretic properties. However, you should not try to replace your prescription medications with these substances without talking to your doctor.

What Is Water Retention?

Water retention, or edema, is a condition where the body retains too much water. Water retention may cause bloating, swelling or puffiness.

What Causes Water Retention?

Water retention can be caused by several different things.

Airplane Travel

The changes in cabin pressure that occur during flight and extended periods of sitting can cause water retention.

Menstrual Cycle and Hormone Changes

Changes in hormone levels, such as those experienced at different points in the menstrual cycle or pregnancy, can cause water retention. Many people who menstruate experience water retention as a symptom of pre-menstrual syndrome.

Medication

Water retention can be a side effect of medications such as chemotherapy treatments, blood pressure medications, over-the-counter pain relievers and antidepressants.

Deep Vein Thrombosis

Clots in veins can cause DVT which may present as swelling in the leg.

Sitting or Standing for Extended Periods

Gravity causes blood to pool in the lower extremities. Movement helps keep blood circulating. When people sit or stand for too long, poor circulation can lead to water retention.

Over-Consumption of Sodium

Too much sodium in the diet can cause water retention. Excess dietary sodium is usually consumed by eating too many processed foods, consuming soft drinks or adding a large amount of table salt to food.

Heart Failure

When the heart has difficulty pumping enough blood, the lack of circulation can cause water retention.

Pregnancy

Changes in weight and weight distribution during pregnancy can cause water retention in the legs if you don't move regularly.

What Are the Symptoms of Water Retention?

There are several common symptoms of water retention:

  • bloating
  • puffiness
  • weight changes
  • swelling in the feet, legs or ankles
  • stiff joints
  • indentations in the skin

What Are the Consequences of Water Retention?

Chronic water retention can be a sign of serious health conditions, such as deep vein thrombosis, fibroids or pulmonary edema. Water pills are often prescribed to treat chronic water retention. Doctors may also prescribe birth control pills or supplements.

How To Prevent Water Retention?

The most common recommendation for avoiding water retention is to consume 2,300 milligrams of sodium or less per day. Increasing your consumption of potassium and magnesium-rich foods, such as bananas, tomatoes, avocados, leafy vegetables and sweet potatoes may also help.

Research suggests that vitamin B-6 supplements may reduce water retention. Consuming the protein albumin may also help with maintaining balanced hydration levels. Elevating your feet may help avoid swelling in the legs while sitting. Wearing compression leggings or socks can also reduce swelling in the legs.

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Discussion Comments

anon302640

I just started a water pill. I have to get used to the timing of it in relation to my day as it does indeed cause frequent urination. I got stuck in traffic and I could tell the pill was working as my bladder was so full. I just barely got to a ladies restroom at a gas station without peeing myself. It makes you really appreciate a toilet and the much needed relief of letting yourself urinate.

burcinc

@burcidi-- I took water pills for a really short time, for about two weeks because I had chronic kidney stone formation. My doctor said that this is the best way to dry them up. The first week that I used them, I was bloated, lightheaded and my pulse was slower than usual.

I think the pulse issue and the lightheadedness was potassium buildup. I did not really understand how water pills can cause depletion of minerals or buildup of them so quickly but apparently they do. Potassium buildup can cause changes in blood pressure which is possibly the reason why I was lightheaded when I was on it.

The second week, I was completely constipated and was using fiber supplements daily to regulate my digestion. My water pills' side effects were really intense. I don't think that this is the case for everyone though because my husband also used them for a while and he didn't have much side effects at all.

ddljohn

@burcidi-- Yep, I had the same side effect when I was taking diuretic water pills. I lost some weight initially but then stopped losing and my stomach and intestines were very bloated.

It turns out I was not drinking enough water and was dehydrated. Since the water pills flush out water from the body, we need to drink a lot of water. I wasn't and so my body was trying to hold on to what it had which was causing the bloating.

As soon as I found out about this, I started drinking a lot more water and I also drank a lot of electrolyte water. My bloating went away in two days and I was okay after that.

So you need to drink more water. Also, if you're going to be taking water pills for a long time, make sure to get a blood draw and have your mineral levels checked so that there isn't a deficiency. I was borderline deficient in sodium once while I was on water pills but my doctor caught it on time and I was able to prevent it.

burcidi

My doctor prescribed diuretic water pills for my high blood pressure last week. I've lost a few pounds since then, but for some reason my stomach is really bloated!

I have no idea how I could be flushing out water, losing weight and still getting bloated from these pills. I feel really uncomfortable and I can't even button my pants.

I've called my doctor but he's out of town and I don't want to stop taking them suddenly. I guess I'm going to stay bloated until I'm able to see my doctor and ask if he can change to another medication.

Has anyone else had this side effect with water pills though?

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    • A sore throat can be a serious side effect of water pills.
      By: absolutimages
      A sore throat can be a serious side effect of water pills.
    • Severe cases of dehydration may require treatment through an IV line.
      By: moggara12
      Severe cases of dehydration may require treatment through an IV line.
    • Lowered blood pressure is a possible side effect of water pills.
      By: niyazz
      Lowered blood pressure is a possible side effect of water pills.
    • Water pills have been used to help individuals lose weight.
      By: HaywireMedia
      Water pills have been used to help individuals lose weight.
    • Diuretics may cause people to urinate frequently.
      By: aerogondo
      Diuretics may cause people to urinate frequently.