Dangers of Diuretic Abuse

Diuretics are drugs used to lower to amount of salt and water present in the body by increasing the amount lost as urine (also called diuresis). Because there is weight loss whenever water is passed, eating disorder sufferers may use diuretics for a "quick fix" - a short-term attempt to lose an extra pound or two. There are a number of different types of diuretic available, as shown in the table below.

Diuretic type Action
Thiazide diuretics In patients they have been prescribed to, thiazide diuretics are suitable for long-term use and cause moderate diuresis.
Loop diuretics These are powerful, fast-acting drugs, particularly when given by injection. They are called "loop" diuretics because they act on the region of the kidneys called Henle's loop. Loop diuretics are sometimes given as an emergency treatment for heart failure.
Potassium-sparing diuretics Often used with thiazide and loop diuretics, both of which may cause potassium deficiency.
Carbonic anhydrase inhibitors Effective only for short periods, these diuretics work by blocking the action of carbonic anhydrase (an enzyme that effects the amount of bicarbonate ions in the blood). They only cause moderate diuresis.
Osmotic diuretics Powerful drugs only given after major surgery or serious injury.

Examples of thiazide diuretics are Bendrofluazide, Chlorothiazide, Chlorthalidone and Cyclopenthiazide. Types of loop diuretics include Burnetanide and Frusemide, whilst potassium-sparing diuretics include Amiloride, Spironolactone and Triamterene.

The dangers

Diuretics are most commonly prescribed to patients with high blood pressure, edema (water retention) or congestive heart failure. They are NOT intended to be used as a means of losing weight and can have serious side-effects including increased levels of uric acid in the blood and hypokalaemia (low levels of potassium in the blood). Hypokalaemia has mild symptoms such as dizziness, headaches and muscle weakness. However, severe hypokalaemia can lead to an irregular heartbeat and muscle paralysis. Laxative abuse can also lead to hypokalaemia.