The question is if being on a diuretic (“water pill”) for a long time can harm the body.
There are basically three demographics who take diuretics.
• Those with congestive heart failure and other medical issues that cause fluid retention (edema).
• Competitive bodybuilders and physique competitors who want maximum dehydration prior to a contest.
• Those with anorexia nervosa who want to see a few more pounds lost – even though it’s just water weight.
People with chronic heart failure are typically on diuretics for the remainder of their life. These are prescription diuretics such as Lasix.
Anorexics may be taking over-the-counter diuretics for years and years, while bodybuilders and physique athletes take these only in the days leading up to a contest.
So the issue of long-term diuretic use being harmful would not apply to bodybuilders and physique athletes, nor, for instance, boxers trying to “make weight.”
“If diuretics are taken over a long period of time, the kidneys may start to retain sodium, making it possible to develop diuretic-induced edema,” says J. Mark Anderson, MD, DABFM, of Executive Medicine of Texas and who is board certified in family medicine.
“Just like many other medication that are taken long-term, they can cause the body to become dependent upon their use,” continues Dr. Anderson.
“People who take diuretics on an as-needed basis may experience rebound swelling. This may also happen if someone who has been on a diuretic for a long period of time suddenly stops taking it,” which would more likely be someone with anorexia nervosa than congestive heart failure.
“Only your physician can determine if a diuretic is right for you. Taking diuretics without proper monitoring can be dangerous because they affect blood pressure, electrolyte balance and can often come with significant side effects.”
It’s not uncommon for those with eating disorders to abuse diuretics.