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Drugs. 1996 Jul;52(1):1-16.

Current drug treatment and treatment patterns with antihypertensive drugs.

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Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Washington, DC, USA.


The 4 major classes of antihypertensive drugs are diuretics, beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors and calcium antagonists. The diuretics have recently regained prominence, largely due to the results of recent controlled trials. These trials in elderly patients demonstrated that low-dose diuretics were effective not only in preventing stroke but also in greatly reducing coronary-related events. Diuretics also decrease left ventricular mass more than the other major drug classes. In addition, they are the most effective drugs for use in combination therapy. By contrast, the safety of calcium antagonists has recently been questioned because of report of increased coronary morbidity and mortality. However, these adverse events may be restricted to the short-acting preparations, especially nifedipine, which causes cardiac stimulation. ACE inhibitors, like beta-blockers, are not only effective in reducing blood pressure, particularly when combined with a diuretic, but also improve angina and decrease postinfarction mortality. They also benefit congestive heart failure, stabilise or improve renal function in hypertensive and diabetic nephropathy and reduce albuminuria. Beta-Blockers are especially effective in reducing sudden cardiac death in patients with coronary heart disease, particularly in postinfarction patients. Final proof of the relative effectiveness of these drugs in preventing morbidity and mortality must await the outcome of large comparative trials currently under way. A recent national survey in the US found that more than 75% of hypertensive patients did not have their hypertension completely controlled. Possible reasons for this disturbing statistic are discussed along with suggestions for improvement.

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