By Anthony McDaniel, M.D.
A diuretic is any drug that elevates the rate of urination and thus provides a means of forced diuresis. There are several categories of diuretics. All diuretics increase the excretion of water from bodies, although each class does so in a distinct way. In medicine, diuretics are used to treat heart failure, liver cirrhosis, hypertension and certain kidney diseases. Some diuretics, such as acetazolamide, help to make the urine more alkaline and are helpful in increasing excretion of substances such as aspirin in cases of overdose or poisoning. Diuretics are often abused by sufferers of eating disorders, especially bulimics, in attempts at weight loss.
The antihypertensive actions of some diuretics (thiazides and loop diuretics in particular) are independent of their diuretic effect. That is, the reduction in blood pressure is not due to decreased blood volume resulting from increased urine production, but occurs through other mechanisms and at lower doses than that required to produce diuresis. Indapamide was specifically designed with this in mind, and has a larger therapeutic window for hypertension (without pronounced diuresis) than most other diuretics. Chemically, diuretics are a diverse group of compounds that either stimulate or inhibit various hormones that naturally occur in the body to regulate urine production by the kidneys. Herbal medications are not inherently diuretics. They are more correctly called aquaretics.
High ceiling diuretics are diuretics that may cause a substantial diuresis – up to 20%of the filtered load of NaCl and water. This is huge when compared to normal renal sodium reabsorption which leaves only ~0.4% of filtered sodium in the urine.
Loop diuretics have this ability, and are therefore often synonymous with high ceiling diuretics. Loop diuretics, such as furosemide, inhibit the body's ability to reabsorb sodium at the ascending loop in the nephron which leads to a retention of water in the urine as water normally follows sodium back into the extracellular fluid (ECF). Other examples of high ceiling loop diuretics include ethacrynic acid, torsemide and bumetanide. Thiazide-type diuretics such as hydrochlorothiazide act on the distal convoluted tubule and inhibit the sodium-chloride symporter leading to a retention of water in the urine, as water normally follows penetrating solutes. Frequent urination is due to the increased loss of water that has not been retained from the body as a result of a concomitant relationship with sodium loss from the convoluted tubule. The short-term anti-hypertensive action is based on the fact that thiazides decrease preload, decreasing blood pressure. On the other hand the long-term effect is due to an unknown vasodilator effect that decreases blood pressure by decreasing resistance. Carbonic anhydrase inhibitors inhibit the enzyme carbonic anhydrase which is found in the proximal convoluted tubule. This results in several effects including bicarbonate retention in the urine, potassium retention in urine and decreased sodium absorption. Drugs in this class include acetazolamide and methazolamide.
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