About one-third of the U.S. population age 20 and older has hypertension, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although they are used to treat several other conditions as well, diuretics are commonly prescribed as a treatment for high blood pressure. These medications, also known as water pills, can cause a number of side effects, including muscle cramps. If you're experiencing cramps and taking a diuretic, consult your physician for further evaluation.
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Diuretics work by helping your body excrete excess fluid and sodium. Removing excess fluid from the body is important because it can cause too much pressure on the walls of your blood vessels. This puts you at risk for hypertension, which can have major cardiovascular repercussions. Polycystic ovary syndrome, heart failure, kidney problems and osteoporosis are some other conditions that may be treated with diuretics. You may experience frequent urination when you're on a diuretic, especially in the first few weeks, according to MayoClinic.com.
Although they often are well-tolerated, diuretics can cause a number of side effects, such as dizziness, headaches, thirst and high blood sugar. Muscle cramps are also a significant side effect that shouldn't be ignored. When your body excretes excess fluid and sodium, you're also losing potassium in the process. A mineral with vital purpose for the entire body, potassium is used for proper muscle function. If your potassium level is deficient, you can experience not only cramps but also muscle weakness and fatigue, according to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University.
Effects of Low Potassium
Having a low potassium level can have serious health consequences. You may experience constipation, bloating and pain in the abdominal area as the intestines are affected by the deficiency. Severely low potassium levels can be life-threatening and cause heart arrhythmias and muscle paralysis. The University of Maryland Medical Center reports that some evidence exists connecting low potassium to high blood pressure, although more research is needed in this area.
Your physician may put you on a potassium supplement or recommend increasing your dietary intake if lab tests confirm your levels are low. Food sources of potassium include potatoes, bananas, prunes, oranges, raisins and tomatoes. You may also be prescribed a different type of water pill. Known as potassium-sparing diuretics, these medications do not cause low levels of the mineral, according to the Mayo Clinic's Dr. Sheldon G. Sheps. Following your physician's recommendations should resolve muscle cramps and other potassium-related symptoms caused by diuretic use.