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Ethacrynic acid is a medication prescribed to treat water retention, or edema, which can cause swelling. This type of drug is often called a water pill or a diuretic. It may be prescribed to patients who have edema caused by liver or kidney disease, or by congestive heart failure; however, those who have high blood pressure can also benefit from the drug. Reducing water retention can alleviate symptoms such as a swollen stomach and difficulty breathing. Ethacrynic acid works by stimulating the kidneys to process more water and salt out of the body, which is excreted in urine.
Adults will typically take 50 milligrams (mg) of ethacrynic acid once daily, while children may be prescribed 25 mg. The doctor will monitor the patient and adjust the dosage on an as needed basis. It is available as a tablet to be taken with food by mouth. Patients are advised to avoid taking a dose in the evening, because this can lead to frequent nighttime urination.
Some side effects may occur with the use of ethacrynic acid, which patients should report to the physician if they are persistent or become bothersome. While frequent urination does occur, the body will typically adjust to the medicine after a few weeks. Nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain have also been reported. Other patients have experienced muscle cramps and excessive thirst. General weakness, loss of appetite, and diarrhea may also occur.
More serious side effects warrant a doctor's immediate care. Patients taking ethacrynic acid should be alert to side effects such as unusual bruising or bleeding, ringing in the ears, and loss of hearing. Confusion, problems breathing or swallowing, and loss of balance may also occur. Some patients have reported a rash and flu-like symptoms, such as chills and a sore throat.
Before using ethacrynic acid, patients should discuss their diet with their doctors. A specific salt intake may be recommended. Patients may be advised to either take a potassium supplement or to regularly eat foods that are rich in potassium. They should also be aware that alcohol can worsen side effects. Diabetics will need to check their blood sugar often, as this medicine can make blood sugar more difficult to manage.
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not use ethacrynic acid. Patients with low blood pressure, severe diarrhea, or advanced kidney disease may also be unable to use this water pill. Before using ethacrynic acid, patients must disclose all of their other medications and supplements to avoid a potential interaction. This diuretic may interact with blood thinners, heart medications, and corticosteroids.