Special Communication
June 10, 1998

Why Are Physicians Not Prescribing Diuretics More Frequently in the Management of Hypertension?

Author Affiliations

From the Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn.

JAMA. 1998;279(22):1813-1816. doi:10.1001/jama.279.22.1813

Diuretics have again been recommended by the Sixth Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure (JNC VI) as one of the first-choice medications in the management of hypertension. This recommendation is based on the results of numerous randomized, diuretic-based, long-term controlled clinical trials that have demonstrated a reduction in both cerebrovascular and cardiovascular morbidity. Despite this and other national recommendations, the use of diuretics has steadily decreased over the past 15 years. Reasons include heavy promotion of other medications and the perception that diuretics produce adverse metabolic effects and do not reduce coronary heart disease events. Data, however, indicate that (1) changes in glucose and cholesterol metabolism are minor, especially with the smaller doses now being used; (2) cardiovascular morbidity and mortality have been reduced in hypertensive patients, even in those with hyperlipidemia or diabetes, when diuretics are used; and (3) concerns about hypokalemia-induced arrhythmias have been overstated. While special indications exist for other medications in the treatment of hypertension, for example, use of an angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor (usually in addition to a diuretic) for a patient with heart failure or diabetic nephropathy, most patients, including those with hyperlipidemia or glucose intolerance, can be effectively treated with a diuretic as initial therapy or as part of a combination regimen. Diuretics should be used more not less frequently; use of diuretics would reduce the number of resistant hypertensive patients.