How to Lower Blood Pressure with Diuretics

If you’re not taking a diuretic for high blood pressure, experts say you should ask your doctor about switching medications

Lower Blood Pressure with Diuretics

Expert advice is that we should lower blood pressure with Diuretics because when it comes to medications to treat high blood pressure, newer isn’t necessarily better.

That is the conclusion of the study, called (Antihypertensive and Lipid-Lowering Treatment to Prevent Heart Attack Trial), which appeared in the Dec, 18 2002, issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.

ALLHAT was a massive clinical trial comparing the effects of newer blood pressure drugs to diuretics, – which have been around for a many years, and are also a much cheaper medication.

Specifically, the diuretic studied — chlorthalidone — was substantially better at preventing heart failure and stroke that can occur as a result of high blood pressure.

These results will likely have doctors rethinking how they treat high blood pressure, which affects about one in four adults, and is a major cause of heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure.

There are several different classes of new blood pressure drugs. But they had not been compared directly with the older diuretics — until now. Diuretics lower blood pressure by increasing urinary output and reducing the body’s sodium and water volume.

The trial “answers a question that doctors have been asking for years, and that is, which of the available medications are best at preventing complications of blood pressure?”

Drugs are usually only prescribed for high blood pressure if lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise, fail to solve the problem.

The findings could have major implications for newer drugs and their manufacturers. The new drugs have taken a significant chunk of the high blood pressure drug market.

According to the researchers, diuretics fell from 56% of prescriptions for high blood pressure in 1982 to 27% in 1992, giving way to the newer drugs. They estimate that sticking with diuretics would have saved more than $3 billion. About 24 million Americans take drugs to lower high blood pressure, costing about $15.5 billion annually. To put it more succinctly: Switching from newer drugs to a diuretic would save between $250 and $650 per patient per year, the researchers say.

The blood pressure study included more than 42,000 participants aged 55 and older. They received either the diuretic chlorthalidone or one of the new blood pressure drugs — Norvasc (a calcium channel blocker) or Prinivil or Zestril (generic name lisinopril — an ACE inhibitor). The part of the study that looked at Cardura — an alpha adrenergic blocker — was stopped in 2000 because of an increase in heart disease and stroke among study participants.

In the study, the researchers were mainly looking for how well each blood pressure drug prevented a heart attack or death from heart disease. In addition, they looked for other complications of high blood pressure — including stroke and heart failure.

After five years, researchers found that the diuretic was just as good at preventing heart attack or death as the newer drugs. But the medicines had different effects on blood pressure. The diuretic was better at lowering systolic blood pressure — the top number — than the newer drugs, but Norvasc was better at lowering diastolic blood pressure — the bottom number.

For heart failure, people taking Norvasc had a 38% higher risk of developing heart failure and a 35% higher chance of being hospitalized for the condition. Those on the ACE inhibitor had a 15% higher risk of stroke, a 19% higher risk of developing heart failure, and other increased risks compared with people taking a diuretic.

Even though the overall death rate was about the same in all groups, strokes and heart attacks seriously reduce quality of life. “These have major impacts on people’s lives,” said Barry R. Davis, MD, PhD, professor of biometry at the University of Texas School of Public Health and the lead investigator on ALLHAT. “The take-home message is that doctors should begin drug treatment for high blood pressure with a diuretic,” said Paul Whelton, MD, MSc, senior vice-president for health sciences at Tulane University, and an ALLHAT regional coordinator. “A great majority of patients can tolerate a diuretic, but, for those who can’t, then a calcium channel blocker, an ACE inhibitor, or a beta-blocker [also a new medication that was not tested in this study] may be used to start treatment.”

The trial also indicates that most patients require more than one drug to control blood pressure, with a diuretic being a key component of any such combination.

If you are currently taking a calcium channel blocker, an ACE inhibitor, or another high blood pressure drug besides a diuretic, you should certainly continue to take your medication. However,you should also talk to your health professional about adding a diuretic or switching to one.

SOURCE: The Journal of the American Medical Association, Dec. 18, 2002 •

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