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Drugs. 1985 Feb;29(2):162-88.

Diuretics. Clinical pharmacology and therapeutic use (Part II).


25 years have elapsed since the introduction of the first effective oral diuretic, chlorothiazide. Diuretics are now amongst the most widely prescribed drugs in clinical practice worldwide. Availability of these drugs has not only brought therapeutic benefit to countless numbers of patients but it has at the same time provided valuable research tools with which to investigate the functional behaviour of the kidney and other electrolyte-transporting tissues. Despite many remaining gaps in our knowledge of the biochemical processes involved in diuretic drug action, available compounds can be divided into 5 groups on the basis of their preferential effects on different segments of the nephron involved in tubular reabsorption of sodium chloride and water. Firstly, there is a heterogeneous group of chemicals that share the common property of powerful, short-lived diuretic effects that are complete within 4 to 6 hours. These agents act on the thick ascending limb of Henle's loop and are known as 'high ceiling' or 'loop' diuretics. The second group are the benzothiadiazines and their many related heterocyclic variants, all of which localise their effects to the early portion of the distal tubule. The third group comprises the potassium-sparing diuretics which act exclusively on the Na+-K+/H+ exchange mechanisms in the late distal tubule and cortical collecting duct. The action of drugs in groups 2 and 3 is prolonged to between 12 and 24 hours. The fourth group consists of diuretics that are chemically related to ethacrynic acid but have the unusual property of combining within the same molecule the property of saluresis and uricosuria. These compounds have actions, to different individual extents, in the proximal tubule, thick ascending limb, and early distal tubule and are known as 'polyvalent' diuretics. Finally, there is a mixed group of weak or adjunctive diuretics which includes the vasodilator xanthines such as aminophylline, and the osmotically active compounds such as mannitol. The metabolic consequences of continued diuretic usage are considered along with non-metabolic sequelae such as ototoxicity or interactions with other concurrent treatments. The relationships between the clinical benefits conferred and the potential harms generated by long term diuretic therapy are also discussed.

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