A common treatment for congestive heart failure is the use of prescription diuretics, also referred to as water pills. Diuretics cause the body to rid itself of unnecessary water and salt through urination. Not having excess fluids in the body makes it easier for the heart to work efficiently, which is the treatment goal for heart failure patients.
The relationship between diuretics and heart failure is evident in the benefits derived from taking prescribed diuretics. Some examples of commonly prescribed diuretics used for the treatment of heart failure include Lasix®, Aldactone®, and Demadex®. Each diuretic is categorized as a loop, thiazide-like, or potassium-sparing medication. Thiazides cause the patient to urinate more often, which helps control blood pressure and in turn allows the heart to work more efficiently. Loop diuretics are significantly stronger and are typically used in emergency situations.
Excessive urination causes potassium loss, which can become life threatening. A potassium-sparing diuretic is often prescribed along with one of the other types due to its preservation of the body's potassium. Prescribed diuretics work in conjunction with each other to maintain optimum water, salt, and potassium in the body.
The relationship between diuretics and heart failure is clear when it comes to fluid retention. Diuretics reduce edema, which is a swelling of extremities caused by fluid retention. It typically appears in the legs. Diuretics also lower blood pressure, which in turn reduces the patient's heart attack risk.
Fluid build-up in the lungs is a common symptom of congestive heart failure. A daily dose of a prescribed diuretic helps reduce the build-up, which allows the heart to work more efficiently. The reduction of fluid retention also reduces respiratory problems often seen in heart failure patients.
In addition to the direct benefit of diuretics in the management of heart failure, there are several secondary benefits as well. Diuretics help kidneys maintain a healthy balance of water retention, thereby reducing the strain on the heart. When taken as prescribed, diuretics can improve liver function in heart failure patients.
Weight gain is closely monitored in cases involving diuretics and heart failure. Heart failure patients on diuretics are instructed to weigh themselves each day. A weight gain of 3 pounds in any 24-hour period or 5 pounds in a week requires a call to the doctor.
Side effects of diuretics and heart failure include excessive thirst, muscle cramping, and dizziness. Headaches and blurred vision are also possible. Many side effects often disappear with continued use of the prescribed diuretic.