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Despite the bewildering number of diuretics available to the physician, these drugs can be divided into 4 main groups, characterised by their site of action on sodium reabsorption in the kidney. Drugs acting on the ascending limb of the loop of Henle have a powerful but short acting diuretic effect; they include frusemide, ethacrynic acid and bumetanide. The benzothiadiazines and related compounds have a moderate diuretic action spread over a longer period, whilst the potassium-sparing diuretics, triamterene, amiloride and spironolactone, have only a weak diuretic effect but a marked ability to diminish urinary potassium excretion. The fourth group is made up of miscellaneous substances which function as vasodilator or osmotic agents. The pathogenesis of oedema formation in heart failure is outlined and a logical approach to treatment suggested. Duiretics are being increasingly used in the treatment of non-oedematous states, in particular hypertension, diabetes insipidus and hypercalciuria; their exact role in pregnancy and acute renal failure remains controversial. Side-effects can be related to their effect on electrolyte excretion and include hypokalaemia, hyponatraemia, hyperkalaemia and hyperuricaemia. The incidence of disturbed carbohydrate tolerance in previously normal individuals is low. Other less common side-effects are also discussed.


D L Davies, G M Wilson. Diuretics: mechanism of action and clinical application. Drugs. 1975;9(3):178-226

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PMID: 1092541

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