Why are diuretics used to treat heart failure?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

Medications are used to treat the underlying cause of the problem, reduce strain on the heart, and help the heart function properly. Diuretics increase kidney function to rid the body of excess salt and liquid, which helps lung function and lowers blood pressure. In eliminating excess fluids, these drugs also strip the body of many important minerals, so routine blood work may be necessary to monitor potassium and magnesium blood levels. If potassium loss is a problem, aldosterone antagonists, an alternative diuretic, may be prescribed to maintain healthy potassium levels in the body.

When you take diuretics, or water pills, you urinate more frequently. Diuretics help your kidneys remove salt and water from your bloodstream and decrease the water in your body. Three good things happen when you lower extra water in your body if you have heart failure:

  • It makes your breathing more comfortable.
  • It makes the swelling in your ankles, legs and belly go down.
  • It makes it easier for your heart to pump.

Diuretics cause you to pass more urine. This helps reduce the amount of blood your heart has to pump. Some diuretics also block aldosterone (a stress hormone) and save potassium.

Other drugs may be needed to prevent clots. This includes aspirin, an antiplatelet drug or a “blood thinner.” Drugs to control heart rhythm (beta-blocker and/or anti-arrhythmic) may also be needed.

Almost every heart failure treatment plan includes medications. Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and beta blockers are the most commonly prescribed medications, but you may also be prescribed diuretics, blood thinners, digitalis or others. These medications work by lowering the workload of the heart, strengthening the pumping action of the heart, and/or ridding your body of excess fluid.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.