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Spironolactone: Uses & Side Effects

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Spironolactone is a medication that be used to treat a number of conditions, including high blood pressure, heart failure, and low potassium. This lesson discusses the common uses and side effects of spironolactone.

Spironolactone Uses

Though you don't usually have to actively think about it, our bodies do a lot of 'behind the scenes' work at maintaining appropriate balances of different chemicals and fluids so that we may function properly. When something goes awry and the body fails to maintain this balance on its own, there are different medications that exist to help. Spironolactone is one such medication.

Spironolactone is a medication used to treat high blood pressure, heart failure, edema, and low potassium levels in the blood (called hypokalemia). Edema is the medical term used to refer to swelling in the body, which is caused by fluid retention. Low potassium levels, or hypokalemia, can occur when the adrenal glands produce too much of a hormone called aldosterone, which helps the body regulate its water and salt content.

Another term sometimes used for spironolactone is water pill, because it helps remove excess fluids from the body. Or, in other words, it prevents the body from retaining too much water.

The chemical structure of spironolactone.
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Side Effects

Kelly suffers from hypokalemia, or low potassium in the blood. Her doctor ran a series of lab tests and discovered she has too much aldosterone, so Kelly takes spironolactone. During the first couple of weeks, she suffered from an upset stomach, with bouts of nausea and diarrhea, so Kelly went back to her doctor to see if these side effects were normal. It turns out, her body was just adjusting to the spironolactone, and he assured her she would begin to feel better soon.

As with any medication, there are possible side effects that can occur when someone takes spironolactone, but Kelly correctly followed up with her doctor to make sure what she was experiencing was normal. Some of the more common side effects of spironolactone include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or upset stomach, headaches, dizziness, or lightheadedness. These may be more prevalent immediately after starting the drug, as the body adjusts to it (like poor Kelly experienced), and then gradually decrease over time.

More serious side effects may warrant medical attention, as they can be indicative of a problem beyond the body's initial adjustment period. These include severe abdominal pain, long-term nausea or vomiting, fatigue, muscle weakness, excessive thirst, mood swings, breast pain (in both women and men), developing a yellow tint to the skin, and excessive bleeding or bruising.

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