Diuretics in sports: what’s their role?

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Diuretics are banned in sports as they give an unfair advantage by helping athletes lose water weight quickly and mask the presence of performance-enhancing substances. Different classes of diuretics have varying strengths and side effects, including dehydration and mineral deficiencies. Medical patients can take prescribed diuretics, but their misuse in sports can cause fatigue, low blood pressure, and seizures. Testing for diuretics is done to catch doping.

The use of diuretics in sport is banned by many competitive sports associations, as the use of diuretics gives certain individuals an unfair competitive advantage. Some athletes take diuretics to lose water weight quickly, providing an advantage in sports where a competitor’s weight is used to determine which class he or she will compete in. Other athletes have been known to take diuretics to mask the presence of performance-enhancing substances in their urine, in an effort to beat a urinalysis they have to do before a competition. Different classes of diuretics have different strengths and side effects, such as stripping various minerals from the body.

Taking diuretics increases the flow of urine in the body by decreasing the amount of water the body retains. Due to the increased urination experienced by a person taking diuretics, a person may experience dehydration. Medical patients with high blood pressure, kidney or liver disease can take prescribed diuretics under the direction of a doctor to treat their medical conditions. The use of diuretics in sports, however, can be used to give an athlete an unfair advantage over the competition.

Because they increase urination, some athletes use diuretics in sports to help them lose weight quickly. The increase in urination caused by diuretic use can measure nearly 1.6 gallons (about six liters), which is the amount of urine an athlete sheds in a 24-hour period. The use of diuretics in sport gives an unfair advantage over competitors if an athlete is placed in a weight category for competition, such as in boxing or wrestling. Urinating at a high volume helps an athlete rapidly reduce their water weight, which some athletes use before weighing themselves when they qualify for a sports competition.

Some athletes may use diuretics in sport as a masking agent, covering up doping or the use of performance-enhancing substances by an athlete. Many sports associations randomly test athletes’ urine for the presence of illegal drugs, such as steroids. Diuretics help eliminate traces of a performance-enhancing drug in a person’s urine before the test. Due to the known abuse of diuretics in sports, organizations may test athletes’ urine for the presence of diuretics as a way to catch doping.

Not all diuretics work the same, as diuretics are divided into different classes. With most diuretics, taking them without medical need can lead to dehydration and potassium deficiency, as diuretics often rob the body of potassium and other electrolytes, leading to muscle cramps. Diuretics can also cause athletes to suffer from fatigue, hypotension or low blood pressure, and seizures.

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