Over-the-Counter Diuretic (Water Pills): What Are Your Options?

By Alicia Wooldridge, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
July 11, 2022

If you are bloated, you may be carrying excess water that your body is not dispelling.

Over the counter Diuretic pills may help you shed the water weight.

Sometimes referred to as water pills, diuretics are often thought of as a way to lose water weight.

But they are also prescribed to treat a range of medical conditions including hypertension (high blood pressure), edema, heart failure, and hyperkalemia (high potassium).

In this article, I’ll discuss if you can get diuretics over the counter, how water pills work, and the best over-the-counter diuretic pills.

I’ll also explain when to see a medical provider about taking diuretics.

Can You Get Diuretics (Water Pills) Over the Counter?

While some diuretic pills are only available by prescription, others are sold over the counter.

The main ingredient in most OTC diuretics is caffeine or pamabrom.

These medications are intended to help with bloating or slight swelling.

Do not take them as a replacement for or in conjunction with prescription diuretics unless advised by your doctor.

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How They Work

On average, the kidneys filter waste and extra fluids from more than 200 liters of blood per day.

The body turns this waste into urine that is passed to the bladder and excreted during urination. 

Diuretics essentially teach your kidneys to expel more fluid.

Each type of water pill does this in a slightly different way.

Diuretics are usually the first type of medication prescribed to help manage blood pressure.

They also treat kidney problems, liver problems, and heart failure.

By removing excess fluid in the body, there is less total fluid in the blood vessels.

This makes it easier for the heart to pump blood around the body. 

For people with edema, diuretics can reduce swelling in the legs.

They also may decrease eye pressure in patients with glaucoma. 

Best Diuretics Over the Counter

Name-brand Diurex and generic versions of the drug are available over the counter in different forms at most leading pharmacies.

These can be taken to promote fluid balance and to stop menstrual and regular bloating.

Caffeine-free options are also available. 

Types

Several types of diuretics are available on the U.S. market.

Diuretics are typically divided into classes based on how they work in the kidney.

These types include:

Thiazide and thiazide-like diuretics

These are the most commonly used water pills typically prescribed for the treatment of high blood pressure.

At higher concentrations, these can also be taken for edema.

Thiazide and thiazide-like diuretics such as hydrochlorothiazide and chlorthalidone can be taken for a long period of time. 

Loop diuretics

Loop diuretics tend to be the most effective at eliminating excess fluid, making them the preferred option for relieving edema, especially for people with heart failure.

Loop diuretics are often administered in emergencies. 

Because they are so strong, loop diuretics have been known to remove electrolytes such as potassium from the blood.

Stay hydrated when taking these pills and get regular blood tests to ensure the medication isn’t damaging your kidneys. 

Common loop diuretics include furosemide (Lasix), torsemide, and bumetanide (Bumex).

Potassium-sparing diuretics

Unlike thiazide, thiazide-like, and loop diuretics, these water pills do not cause potassium levels to drop.

However, potassium-sparing diuretics may cause potassium levels to spike.

This can trigger a condition called hyperkalemia, which can become serious.

Get regular blood tests to check your potassium levels while taking potassium-sparing diuretics.

Common potassium-sparing diuretics include two different types of medications: aldosterone antagonists and epithelial sodium channel blockers.

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When to See a Medical Provider

For the most part, diuretics are safe and side effects are usually mild.

You may experience muscle cramps, headaches, dizziness, and dehydration. In some circumstances, loop diuretics can cause dehydration and be quite tough on the kidneys.

Monitor your fluid intake and see a doctor if you experience any pain in your lower abdomen. 

Diuretics can also interfere with blood potassium levels, making them too low or too high.

Take your dose only as prescribed by your doctor or pharmacist, and attend regular check-ups to avoid any potential health issues that can occur as side effects from these drugs. 

How K Health Can Help

Did you know you can access online urgent care with K Health?

Check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed, text with a healthcare provider in minutes. 

K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and is based on 20 years of clinical data.

K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.

Alicia Wooldridge, MD

Dr. Alicia Wooldridge is a board certified Family Medicine physician with over a decade of experience.

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