- Common side effects of spironolactone like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, leg cramps, and dizziness often go away within a few days or weeks as the body adjusts.
- More serious side effects like severe rashes, breathing issues, muscle problems, and numbness warrant medical attention.
- The breast enlargement side effect in men (gynecomastia) usually goes away after stopping the medication.
- It’s best to consult a healthcare provider if side effects persist or worsen – they can provide guidance on managing or changing treatment.
- Understanding the range of potential side effects, their likelihood, and duration can help patients make informed decisions about using spironolactone.
Spironolactone is a medication that has been used to treat various conditions like high blood pressure, heart failure, and swelling for over 50 years. It is also commonly used to treat acne and excess hair growth in women. Like most medications, spironolactone can cause side effects in some people who take it. But do these side effects go away over time or with discontinuation of the medication?
How Long Do Spironolactone Side Effects Last?
In general, many side effects of spironolactone are mild and temporary, often subsiding within a few days or weeks as the body adjusts and adapts to the medication. However, the duration and severity of side effects can vary significantly between individuals based on factors like dosage, length of treatment, age, existing medical conditions, and how the individual body processes the medication.
According to a 2020 review on spironolactone published in the journal StatPearls, the most common side effects of spironolactone like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, drowsiness, leg cramps, and headache tend to resolve within days to a few weeks after starting therapy. These are considered mild transient side effects associated with initiation of treatment.
However, the review noted that other side effects like gynecomastia or breast enlargement in men may take longer to resolve and can persist for a while even after stopping treatment. Electrolyte imbalances caused by spironolactone may also require monitoring and management under medical supervision.
Rare but serious side effects like severe hyperkalemia, kidney problems, and liver toxicity may need prompt medical intervention. Discussing any persistent, worsening, or concerning side effects with a healthcare provider is always recommended.
Common Minor Side Effects That Go Away
Some of the most frequent side effects reported with short-term spironolactone use include:
Nausea and Vomiting
Up to 12% of people taking spironolactone may experience nausea and vomiting when first starting treatment. A 2005 study published in Urology involving 83 patients found nausea in 11% of those taking spironolactone. These gastrointestinal issues are likely due to the body adjusting to the diuretic effects of the medication. Staying hydrated and taking the medication with food can help minimize nausea.
Loose stools and diarrhea are also common complaints, affecting around 9% of new spironolactone users according to a 1984 study in the British Journal of Dermatology. This may be caused by increased intestinal motility triggered by the drug. Diarrhea tends to resolve within 1-2 weeks as the body acclimatizes.
Muscle cramps in the legs and feet are another frequently reported side effect, occurring in up to 6% of users according to a 1985 study in the British Journal of Dermatology. These may be linked to electrolyte disturbances caused by spironolactone. Drinking electrolyte-rich fluids may help relieve cramps.
Feeling lightheaded and dizzy is common when first starting spironolactone, reported by 4-6% of users in some studies. This may result from dehydration due to increased urine output. Increasing fluid intake can help minimize dizziness.
Up to 10% of people taking spironolactone may experience drowsiness and fatigue especially at higher doses. A 1984 study found reports of drowsiness in 10% of those taking 100-200mg spironolactone daily. This often improves as the body gets used to the medication.
Headache is another frequently cited side effect, occurring in around 2-5% of users. Headaches may be related to dehydration or electrolyte disturbances. Staying well-hydrated can help manage headaches.
In most cases, these transient side effects resolve within days to a few weeks with continued use. However, it is important to inform your healthcare provider if any side effects become severe or persist beyond 2-4 weeks.
Uncommon But Serious Side Effects
While very rare, spironolactone may also cause potentially serious adverse effects like:
- Hyperkalemia: High blood potassium levels occur in less than 1% of patients but can be dangerous. This may require reducing the dose or discontinuing the medication.
- Kidney problems: Spironolactone can worsen existing kidney disease in susceptible individuals. Kidney function should be monitored through blood tests.
- Liver toxicity: Mild liver enzyme elevations are occasionally seen, with severe liver injury being very rare. Symptoms like nausea, fatigue, and jaundice warrant prompt medical care.
- Electrolyte imbalances: Low sodium levels or high potassium levels are possible. Mild symptoms may include lethargy, weakness, and muscle cramps.
- Rash and itching: Allergic skin reactions like hives, blistering, and peeling have been reported in less than 1% of patients. Seek medical advice for severe reactions.
- Breathing problems: Shortness of breath could signal fluid build-up in the lungs or a dangerous allergic reaction. Prompt medical care is advised if breathing issues arise.
If any signs of serious side effects present, it is imperative to seek medical help immediately. In some cases, these effects may necessitate discontinuing spironolactone treatment under medical supervision.
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Breast Enlargement in Men: Does This Go Away?
One of the unique side effects of spironolactone is gynecomastia or breast enlargement in men. This occurs due to the drug’s anti-androgen effects which can disrupt normal hormonal balance. Estrogen levels may increase relative to testosterone, leading to breast tissue growth.
According to a 2022 systematic review in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, gynecomastia occurs in 6-10% of male patients receiving spironolactone therapy. It is more common with higher doses exceeding 100mg daily.
Mild breast enlargement often resolves slowly over several months after stopping spironolactone treatment. However, one 1990 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine on 80 male patients found that residual gynecomastia persisted in up to 64% of affected men after discontinuing spironolactone.
For moderate to severe gynecomastia that is extremely bothersome physically or psychologically, additional interventions may be required, such as:
- Switching to another medication under medical guidance
- Reducing the spironolactone dosage if possible
- Taking medications to block breast tissue growth
- Undergoing breast tissue removal surgery in severe refractory cases
Close monitoring and timely management are important if gynecomastia occurs. While mild symptoms often fade gradually after stopping spironolactone, discuss all bothersome or persistent breast enlargement with your doctor.
When to See a Doctor
It is advisable to consult a healthcare provider if:
- Side effects do not resolve within 2-4 weeks of starting treatment
- Side effects are severe or intolerable
- Multiple side effects present at the same time
- Side effects impede normal daily activities
- You experience any signs of serious side effects
- Breast enlargement is distressing physically or emotionally
The doctor can evaluate your symptoms, review your medical history, adjust dosage if needed, and explore alternate treatment options. Based on the assessment, they may recommend continuing spironolactone with lifestyle modifications, switching medications, or discontinuing treatment under supervision.
Reporting all side effects and concerns enables personalized management and treatment adjustments tailored to your needs and tolerability. This helps ensure optimal outcomes on therapy.
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The Bottom Line
The majority of common spironolactone side effects like nausea, diarrhea, dizziness, and headaches are transient, resolving within days to weeks of treatment initiation as the body adapts. However, some effects like gynecomastia may take more time to disappear or need additional interventions.
Rare but serious side effects warrant prompt medical care. It is best to seek guidance from your healthcare provider if side effects are severe, persistent beyond 2-4 weeks, or negatively impacting quality of life. With close monitoring and management, spironolactone can be taken safely by most patients requiring its benefits. Being well-informed helps set appropriate expectations and empower patients to be partners in their care