Figure competitor Julie Michaelson openly talks about her experience with the use of the diuretic hydrochlorothiazide (HCTZ).

Julie Michaelson Diuretic UseI wanted to write this article on my first-hand account of prescription diuretic use for competition because in my post-contest rebound, I Googled and I Binged and I could not find anyone else who had written about their first-hand account of diuretic rebound. I desperately needed to know if what I was feeling and what I was going through was normal. I hope that my experience will either be helpful to you in your rebound or will enlighten you enough to choose not to use prescription diuretics or at the very least get all the necessary information about their use from a qualified individual.

I’ve always prided myself on being a “natural” figure competitor. I have nothing against the use of performance enhancing drugs, nor do I judge people who use them, I just personally choose not to use them. To be honest, I’ve never even been tempted to give them a try…until recently…

It was exactly one week before my last competition and I knew I was no where near ready to step on stage. I would say I was at least 4-6 weeks from being as lean as I should have been. I considered not taking the stage and bailing out at the last minute, but I didn’t feel like that was a legitimate option for me. I thought perhaps if I could drop enough water weight in the coming week it might compensate for my “fluffiness”. A few days later, a friend and fellow bodybuilder offered me prescription diuretics and I figured that since it was not a tested show, there was really no harm. After all, it’s just a diuretic.

I’m still not exactly sure where I went in my head that made me think this was a smart idea. The thing that is most important to me in the whole competition process is making sure that I set myself up for a healthy post competition phase. I knew that there would be harsh consequences as a result of what I was choosing to do, but for some reason, I completely disregarded what I know to be true. Desperation is the only answer I’ve been able to find.

The diuretic that I received was: Hydrochlorothiazide (HCTZ): a thiazide diuretic (water pill) that helps prevent your body from absorbing too much salt, which can cause fluid retention. Hydrochlorothiazide treats fluid retention (edema) in people with congestive heart failure, cirrhosis of the liver, or kidney disorders, or edema caused by taking steroids or estrogen. This medication is also used to treat high blood pressure (hypertension).

It probably wouldn’t have been that big of a deal had it been taken correctly. But, in my desperate attempt to look remotely stage ready, I did not take the time to do my due diligence and investigate what exactly I was taking and how I should be taking it. Of course, in my haste, I didn’t know I was taking a drug that should not be used by asthmatics (me) and people with sulfa allergies (also me). And so, I took what was advised and it was advised to take a LOT! By the time the day of the show arrived I was severely and dangerously dehydrated.

The week of the show, I started water loading as usual, but unlike how I normally water deplete, I went from 2 gallons to 20oz as recommended by a friend. I was still 3 days out from the show. I was still doing cardio and using the sauna to drop water. The two days before the show were sips of water only. Over the course of 36 hours, I took 10, 50mg tablets of HCTZ. Between Sunday morning and Thursday afternoon I lost 19lbs! I knew that losing that much weight was going to mean severe consequences in the coming days. You just don’t lose that much weight without having a serious rebound.

My usual carb load meal is pancakes with butter and syrup and a glass of orange juice. Because my coach didn’t know I was taking the diuretics, she still had me loading on the usual pancake meal the night before the show. In hindsight, that was probably a really bad idea to have all that sugar in conjunction with the diuretics. The morning of the show I had my same pancake breakfast and was feeling pretty much like death warmed over. I was already getting bloated before prejudging. After prejudging, I didn’t really feel like food so much as just something cold and wet in my mouth. So, I enjoyed a couple small bowls of soft serve ice cream and a whole lot of pineapple. Yet another bad idea. All that sugar was just a recipe for disaster.

What I didn’t know was how careful you had to be with sugars in combination with diuretic use and also how careful you have to be when adding water back after the show. After the night show, I guzzled water like crazy! More than food, I just wanted water. The week following the show, I enjoyed foods I like, but nothing crazy or out of hand. I hit the gym in typical post-contest style the day after the show to keep up with my cardio as that’s the best way I’ve found to avoid packing on the quick pounds. By mid-week I was having terrible digestion issues and feeling pretty bloated.

Little did I know there was a “perfect storm” brewing inside of my body and I was in for a very long road ahead. I knew I was in for a harsh rebound, but I thought maybe a couple weeks would be all. Unfortunately, it was not that simple.

Diuretics Side Effects

Post Contest: The Rebound

The first few days after the show seemed to be pretty much status quo. However, by Wednesday following a Friday contest, I could tell that there was something serious going on. The first thing I noticed was that my digestive system just wasn’t working right. I wasn’t sure what was the cause…being on a keto diet and then reintroducing carbs too fast or if it had something to do with the diuretics. About a week after the contest I decided to start taking Cleanse & Lean again as well as Dandelion Root to see if that would help with my digestion and water retention issues.

They helped, a bit. About a week later I decided it was probably best to cut the Cleanse & Lean and the Dandelion Root and allow my body to reach its natural state of balance on its own without the help of supplements. This is when all hell broke loose! I swelled up so fast. My abdomen was distended, making me look about 5 months pregnant. It was painful. Every part of my body was swollen: my legs, my arms, my butt…everything! My clothes didn’t fit and I didn’t know what was happening to my body. Lifting weights was painful because I was on glycogen overload so I would get ridiculous pumps that were too painful to be “cool.”

A good friend of mine is a paramedic and so he became the recipient of my many questions that I couldn’t find answers to online. He told me I was suffering from total body edema. The edema was also making it hard for me to breathe and exacerbating my asthma. When I would do cardio, I would be breathless at a level that normally I could handle easily for an hour. Because my blood pressure was elevated and the edema was also in my lungs, it took great effort to get through my cardio sessions. Even going up the stairs in my house was a chore.

I did a lot of cardio, time in the sauna and water loading. This seemed to help a little bit. Weeks went by and while the swelling and bloating got better, it was so gradual that it was hard to notice. About 5 weeks after the contest I had a lymphatic drainage massage and even had the massage therapist work on my abdomen. The massage was definitely a turning point in my rebound. I noticed dramatic results immediately, however, I continued to have water retention as well as digestive issues. I had to start using the Cleanse & Lean again and kept using it for another 4 weeks before my doctor told me I had to stop taking it as it was making matters worse and prolonging my recovery. My body had become dependent on it from using it for so long and couldn’t function without it.

All the while, I was following my typical 4-6 week out diet. Super clean, low carb, low fat, high protein. This diet always works for me and it works fast, so the fact that I was not dropping much with the food and the 2-a-day cardio sessions was really affecting me mentally. I wanted results and I wasn’t getting them. I was uncomfortable in my own skin and I couldn’t do anything about it. What worked before wasn’t working this time.

Julie Michaelson DiureticsThe beauty of being a female is in addition to all the other issues going on in the body we have to deal with wacky hormones and reproductive-related issues. This whole process did a big number on my hormones. Over the course of 9 weeks I had my cycle 6 times. Regular, 5 day long cycles. Admittedly, I was starting to get scared. Nine weeks is a long time and the fact that my cycles weren’t getting longer was starting to worry me. I finally made an appointment to see my naturopath.

My naturopath nearly fell off her chair when I told her how much of the diuretic I took in such a short time frame. On the other hand, a client of mine who is a physician didn’t seem all that alarmed by it, so I don’t know how bad it really is for most folks. For me, it was too much and my body revolted. I was relieved when my naturopath said that my body was doing what it was supposed to do and that everything sounded on track for getting back to normal.

I had a bit of a caffeine addiction (a “bit” being a pretty big understatement) that I had to kick to help speed my recovery process. In hindsight, the caffeine I was consuming was likely hindering my progress. The dehydration messed with my electrolyte levels, so we had to work at getting that fixed as well. She also started me on probiotics to treat an infection caused by being dehydrated and to help with my digestive problems. If you find yourself in a situation like me, I would strongly encourage you to seek medical advice as early as possible so you can give your body everything it needs to start healing.

Over the last couple months I have done a lot of research on this matter and one of the things that I found particularly interesting was the impact all of this has on the adrenal system and how important it is to keep our adrenal system healthy and functioning well. A few supplements I added for adrenal support are:

It’s now been 12 weeks since my last show and I’m still working on getting back to normal, helping my body get back into balance. I am eating clean, training hard and trying hard to rest more and give my body all the things it needs to get back to a healthy state. This has been an extremely traumatic experience for me mentally, physically and emotionally and it was important to me to write this because I can guarantee that there are other people out there, like me, and are confused and scared and wondering if this is normal and “will I ever feel like ME again?” It’s not something I’m proud of, so reaching out for help was a fear I simply had to overcome to be able to get better.

It has also been important for me to use this experience and this time to reflect on what I did and why I did it. I have 4 children who depend on me, I cannot “voluntarily” put my life in jeopardy. No contest is worth that to me and it shouldn’t be worth that to anyone. I have definitely learned a lesson the hard way, but in looking at the positive side, I have gained so much knowledge over the last couple of months and now I have first hand experience to go with it. It’s not a road I will ever take again and hopefully others can learn from my experience and not feel the need to go down this road themselves. As I said before, should you decide that you want to take prescription diuretics for competitive purposes, PLEASE seek the advice of a trained professional that knows what they’re doing so that you get proper guidance before, during and after use.

Posted on: Mon, 10/17/2022 - 06:08

The diuretic wasn't the cause. You suffered from severe Refeeding Syndrome.

Posted on: Wed, 05/20/2020 - 08:26

Victims of diuretics, why you all do not take supplements (medicines) with Potassium? !!! The average woman should receive 2500-3000 mg of potassium per day per day! Diuretics remove potassium from the body. The products contain the most potassium in dried fruits (dried apricot, peach, plum, grapes) and seaweed.

Kristina Clemons
Posted on: Thu, 10/18/2018 - 11:12

Omg this is what’s happening to me!! I took over the counter water pills and my stomach has been bloated for a month and will not go down!! I have been to the ER twice and everyone thinks it’s nothing and I’m crazy! I know my body though and when I straighten up my diet my body always goes back to normal but not now! I don’t know what to do please help!!

Victoria DeLacy
Posted on: Thu, 09/14/2017 - 11:49

I have been off the lasix now for about two weeks and am having issues with swelling in the legs. Supplements being taken include dandelion, horse chestnut, parsley, a super strength water pill contaibing rutin as well as yellow seed clover, magnesium, potassium, l-arginine, coq10, garlic, selenium, cayenne and turmeric. Tomorrow a supplement order arrives upon which I will be adding ginger, grapeseed and calcium. If that does not balance me out sufficiently, I plan to add nettle leaf next month. Lasix was starting ti affect the kidneys after several years on it while leg wounds caused by an allergic reaction to cipro were healing. I hope to see a balancing to normalcy soon.

Varsha bhawnani
Posted on: Sun, 11/18/2018 - 08:42

Thanks for the write up . I am facing the same issue and it’s been over 6/8 months now ... I try to be in low sodium diet and drink lots of water but some days u just go back to the dieiuritics and one goes back to the same position .

Is there anyone who has been able to overcome this situation ? Please help !!!!

Posted on: Tue, 08/16/2016 - 23:43

Thank you for this post! I was put on hctz after my baby boy was born for new onset hypertension. My family doc switched me a week ago and I put on 6 lbs of fluid. It gives me patience to see how long it took you to return to normalish. Thank you.

Posted on: Fri, 03/04/2016 - 16:44

Hi.. I would like to know how long it took you to get back to normal.. I am going through the exact same thing.. Its been 5 weeks so far..did u eventually reach ur original weight??

Posted on: Tue, 09/23/2014 - 18:29

Good for you for swallowing your pride and posting this honest, brave account of your experience. Everything we go through is for a reason. You've obviously learned a lot from this. Perhaps, more so about your self and what is important, than about your body. We all make mistakes. But as long as we learn from them, and help others in the process, we have made them for the better.

Posted on: Thu, 03/27/2014 - 12:37

I was taking 25mg of HCTZ once a day for high blood pressure. I do cardio 4 times a week and get dizzy and my blood pressure drops too low. My doctor now has told me to take half every other day. This has helped out a lot. I been taking them for years, I can't even image abusing them like that and the consequences for doing so. I was getting the irregular heart beat and extreme dizziness.

Posted on: Mon, 02/10/2014 - 18:23

Can someone post the answer to this? My new year's resolution was to stop abusing laxatives but I've gained so much weight it's discouraging. I'm eating healthy, drinking water etc but my weight won't budge it only increases. Please help!

Posted on: Fri, 05/15/2015 - 01:42

I just read your comment and it really spoke to me. I am in the process right now and it is miserable, just wanted to reach out and ask you how you were doing and maybe what advise you had for someone trying to recover from laxative abuse
Thank you so much

Posted on: Mon, 01/13/2014 - 18:48

Can any of you tell how long it took to lose all of the rebound edema after stopping diuretics? It has been 6 weeks I am off of them and I haven't lost 15 lbs. of rebound edema I put on after stopping diuretics even though I cut back sodium drastically. I am discouraged.

Posted on: Fri, 11/08/2013 - 23:06

Just wanted to say a big THANK YOU for writing this and sharing your story! I went through and am going through this now. Took Diuretics suggested by a friend as well as all over the net to lose a few extra lbs prior to my show. I did lose the water weight but 3 days after I was in the ER with chest pain. 3 weeks later and still experience spikes in Blood pressure. I gained 30lbs in just over 3 weeks. Taking this diuretic was the biggest mistake of my life! Im sorry that people are judging you for trying to help and judging your lifestyle and foods that you eat. That wasnt the point of your story, the point was to warn others but people like judging and casting stones. Anyway Thank you again. Once I finally normalize I will be back to doing NPC Mens Physique shows. If I see you at one I will say thank you.

Posted on: Fri, 10/04/2013 - 19:37

The exact same thing happened to me. I overused diuretics and even while on them, I started to blow up in weight. Once I went off, 5 days later I put on 12 lbs. It has been 2 weeks off and I put on 16lbs. in total. My doctor tested renin/aldosterone which was off the chart high and said there is noting I can do and let it come down on own. Can someone please email me that has experienced weight gain after stopping diuretics and tell me how long it took to get back normal and any other info. I am so depressed over this and can't fit in to my clothes.

Posted on: Sun, 02/07/2016 - 08:39

Hello Dawn..i can see you have made your comment a couple of years ago...I would really like to know what happened to you and when your weight started to go back down because im going through the same phase now :( please email me

Posted on: Tue, 09/03/2013 - 12:28

Thank you for sharing!! i also have been spending hours on line looking up the same think. how ever i have spent months trying to figure out what is wrong with me. its only been recent that i found that a simple diuretic has been the reason for my problems. the doc gave me a diuretic after i complained about swelling in my hands and feet. i was so happy to take it cuz the swelling was an annoyance... over the past 3 years! ive had a number if other issues, ranging from constipation to mouth sores.. i also sweat allot. going to the gym was so hard. i have a heat intolerance, low blood pressure, and im always getting UTIs. whats wrong with me i would ask the doc. he said stress. i am currently (past 2 years) getting a divorce. marital issues before that. ok stress... then i asked the doc what was going on my legs were swelling.. how can i be dehydrated AND retaining water! and i was taking the diuretic. drink more water he said...... 4L of water a day. i found out the mouth sores were from a b deficiency. i took a b complex and.... well to make a long story short all my issues are from 1 little pill i took because my hands and legs swell. its been almost 7 days that i havnt took the water pill and im full of water. today i can feel it in my nose... im all messed up. go to the doctor.. that makes me smile. new doctor maybe. what am i doing for this? looking on line to see if anyone else is having the same issues. i have been drinking a liter of water and a cup of coffee every morning before i eat to help in getting regular. and soup. homemade bone broth soup with veggys. its helping (i hope) one pound left the scale this morning. my body is just now letting the water go. i am still dehydrated and a mess. ive always tried to eat healthy and balanced. i live on a farm i raise and grow most of my food. i dont eat anything that comes in a box or bag. one little pill has messed everything up. im 36 years old i always felt and acted at least 10 years younger. between what life has dealt and that little pill, i feel ive aged to 10 years older. sure some can be from stress but the rest is from taking that diuretic. i'll get back to health. i know its going to be hard keeping my chin up. but seeing you and what you wrote gives me faith that in time and bumpy roads that i will also feel better. i dont have a couch or anything like that. but i'll get there. thank you again.

dawn dugan
Posted on: Mon, 03/03/2014 - 18:48

I went through something similar. Once I stopped the diuretics, I swelled up 20 lbs and months later it hasn't come off. Did you get all of the swelling off and if so, how long? I am so depressed over this.

Posted on: Tue, 08/27/2013 - 01:45

You are very fortunate that you did not suffer a serious cardiac event. The excessive diuretic you took without adequate monitoring of your electrolytes was asking for heart damage or kidney damage. I was in the emergency dept. 2 weeks ago and was diagnosed with Diastolic Heart Failure at age 56. After I was taken to the corornary intensive care I was given large IV doses of a potent diuretic even though I had been on a prescribed diuretic for years. I was so swollen I had not been able to fit tennis shoes on my feet for months or fit into any regular clothes. I could not bend my knees because of the excess fluid and the skin was stretched thin. I lost 23 pounds of fluid in 36 hours and finally I could breath again. During the time I was on the high dose diuretic I had blood tested every 4 hours to monitor my electrolytes. I had to be given potassium & magnesium to supplement what I was losing through my urine. My doctor told me that if I had not had this testing & electrolyte replacement my blood pressure would have been high enough to cause a stroke. Additional caffine and placing yourself in the heated water of the hot tub also would have caused your blood pressure to potentially be abnormally high and your heart rate would have been racing. Given the lack of thought that originally went into your idea to take an abusive level of a prescription drug without medical supervision, your children are lucky to still have their Mother, because the stress you placed your body through should have resulted in serious illness or death. You just happened to survive without permanent organ damage by sheer luck.
While I can appreciate that you wrote this article to look back on why you decided to abuse a drug without any attempt to inform yourself of the dangers, I find it sad that it still sounds like you still haven't researched or learned you were flirting with death off in the name of vanity. Your biggest concern seemed to be some GI oddities and for those you reached for another drug to "clense". It seems like it is automatic for you to reach for one drug after another to correct problems that you created for your body. A drug us anything that changes your normal body chemistry or functioning. Please stop taking drugs for the sake of vanity and make a healthy lifestyle your priority. That way your children will continue to have their Mother with them and they won't have to read about how you abused drugs to win a competition. Ignorance & drugs are the primary cause of death these days. Trusting a friend who was a paramedic, is not a substitute for an ethical physician. If they had really been a friend, they would not have encouraged you to abuse diuretics with no medical monitoring. It really bothers me that I lived a healthy drug-free life and I happened to get a disease that will likely kill me before five years pass, but you feel your life is worth risking just so you look "lean enough" for a show. If you really wanted to learn from your mistake you would read everything your could about the side-effects of the drug you took and see how many times you came close to a death sentence. It seems like you wanted to learn some kind of lesson from your experience, but you didn't do anything to change your level of ignorance. If you had actually researched the dangers of overdosing on prescription diuretics and shown a good understanding of what a stupid thing you did and then warned others, I might have been more impressed. If you really want to use your story to educate others in hope they will not be tempted to repeat your mistake, it would have helped to state some facts rather than complain about how you looked to other drugs to correct a problem a different drug caused. I think you had good intent, but I would rather see you take the time to educate yourself about what you foolishly did before trying to teach others a lesson.

Posted on: Mon, 01/13/2014 - 18:46

Thanks for sharing. It has been 6 weeks off of diuretics and I haven't lost the rebound edema of 15 lbs. I put on once I stopped the diureitcs. Did you lose all of the rebound edema and if so how long did it take? I am not sure what else to to, I cut back sodium drastically. I thought after 6 weeks things would have gotten better. My doc. is of no help and says take diuretic again, but I don;t want to as I think they made the little edema I had worse. Now, I'm a mess. Any info, you can give would be most appreciated!

Dana b
Posted on: Sun, 10/11/2015 - 02:31

Good thing you aren't a therapist (your patients would have committed suicide) or motivational speaker (it's obviously NOT in your character). You are obviously insecure and self righteous, feel superior in this subject, because you don't have an issue with it. So the other issues you do have problems with, Type AAA maybe, oh definitely, I would never berate you on a forum you posted on. Deal with your anger over your Diastolic prognosis. The world isn't your punching bag though. I hope you make the rest of your life optimistic

Posted on: Wed, 07/10/2013 - 11:41

Thank you for sharing your story. <3 I hope many read it and use it as a learning tool!

Posted on: Sun, 06/30/2013 - 07:58

idiotic to worry bout dropping water before going on stage as a natural. also going keto is just as idiotic, please do some research on the basic fundamentals of nutritional science, i advice following jason blaha (ice cream fitness) on youtube, watch his nutrition videos regarding IIFYM. You will be ashamed saying thing like "eating clean". I dont blame you, i was the same, i blame your couch. please do your research.
please watch video and open yourself up to the modern world op nutrition, flexible dieting.

Posted on: Mon, 02/18/2013 - 23:09

I was taking HCTC for blood pressure and water retention issues. I also have asthma and a sulfa allergy. I had hives for four months. My Dr knew about the sulfa allergy but apparently didn't know I shouldn't take it.

Posted on: Thu, 09/13/2012 - 04:37

Wow, this also happened to me, I nearly gained 20kg in 3 weeks after my show! No matter how clean I dieted, I could not get rid of it. I thought its only water due to the diuretic overdose, but realized how much fat I gained the 3 weeks post comp that I binged. Unbelievable. Thanks for sharing.

Posted on: Tue, 03/13/2012 - 17:35

I have the same problem. I not as bad but I can tell a difference so those supplements you listed above helped you?

Posted on: Wed, 07/07/2010 - 22:02

Thanks Mark! That's a good question. I chose not to see a physician because I was told by several people (my medic friend, a client/physician and bodybuilders who have used hctz) that these symptoms would clear up on their own, in due time. In hindsight, I obviously should have sought medical attention at the onset of these symptoms as that likely could have sped up my recovery process. And yes, I got VERY, VERY lucky. A lesson learned the hard way, for sure.

Posted on: Wed, 07/07/2010 - 15:10

Great story. Thank you for sharing. Why did you not see a physician when you first started noticing these symptoms? Taking that much diuretics will leave your electrolytes out of wack. You were really lucky that you did not get any arrhythmias with the diuretic use.