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Hypertension. 2012 May;59(5):926-33. doi: 10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.111.180554. Epub 2012 Mar 19.

Clinical significance of incident hypokalemia and hyperkalemia in treated hypertensive patients in the antihypertensive and lipid-lowering treatment to prevent heart attack trial.

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  • 1Department of Epidemiology and Social Medicine, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY, USA.


Concerns exist that diuretic-induced changes in serum potassium may have adverse effects in hypertensive patients. The Antihypertensive and Lipid-Lowering Treatment to Prevent Heart Attack Trial, a large practice-based clinical trial, made it possible to examine consequences of observed changes in potassium during care in conventional practice settings. Normokalemic participants randomized to chlorthalidone (C) versus amlodipine or lisinopril as a first-step drug were stratified by year-1 potassium. Postyear-1 outcomes among hypokalemics (potassium, <3.5 mmol/L) and hyperkalemics (potassium, >5.4 mmol/L) were compared with normokalemics (potassium, 3.5-5.4 mmol/L). Year-1 hypokalemia incidence was 6.8%; incidence in C (12.9%) differed from amlodipine (2.1%; P<0.001) and lisinopril (1.0%; P<0.01). Hyperkalemia incidence (2.0%) was greater in lisinopril (3.6%) than in C (1.2%; P<0.01) or amlodipine (1.9%; P<0.01). Coronary heart disease occurred in 8.1% with hypokalemia, 8.0% with normokalemia, and 11.1% with hyperkalemia. Overall, mortality was higher in hypokalemics than in normokalemics (Cox hazard ratio, 1.21 [95% CI, 1.02-1.44]) with statistically significant (interaction, P<0.01) disparity in hazard ratios for the 3 treatment arms (hazard ratios, C=1.21, amlodipine=1.60, lisinopril=3.82). Hyperkalemia was associated with increased risk of combined cardiovascular disease (hazard ratio, 1.58 [95% CI, 1.15-2.18]) without significant treatment interactions. In conventional practice settings, the uncommon appearance of hyperkalemia was associated with increased cardiovascular disease risk. Hypokalemia was associated with increased mortality; however, the statistically significant heterogeneity in hazard ratios across treatment groups strongly suggests that the observed increase in mortality is unrelated to the specific effects of C. Thus, for most patients, concerns about potassium levels should not influence the clinician's decision about initiating hypertension treatment with low-moderate doses of thiazide diuretics (12.5-25.0 mg of C).


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