Investigating mineralocorticoid hypertension

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About 3% of our hypertensive patients have high blood pressure induced by corticosteroids. Muscle weakness, tiredness, polyuria and polydipsia may indicate hypokalaemia. Hypokalaemic hypertension in the presence of a low plasma renin activity is the typical finding of corticosteroid hypertension. The most frequent cause of corticosteroid hypertension is primary aldosteronism (Conn's syndrome) due to an adrenal adenoma or bilateral hyperplasia of the adrenal glands. The plasma concentration of aldosterone and the ratio between plasma aldosterone and renin concentrations are high, and the kaliuresis exceeds 30 mmol/24 h in the presence of hypokalaemia. Adrenal carcinomas are rare and very malignant. The localization of an adrenal tumour is made by computer tomography (CT-scan) or nuclear magnetic resonance imaging and by measurement of the aldosterone/cortisol concentrations in the adrenal venous blood. Adenomas are removed under laparoscopy, and adrenal hyperplasias are treated with spironolactone (50-400 mg daily) or amiloride (5-30 mg daily). In rare cases (<1%), excessive stimulation of the mineralocorticoid receptor is due to cortisol (apparent mineralocorticoid excess, Cushing's disease, liquorice, or hereditary deficiency of 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase) or to a chimeric gene coding for 11β-hydroxylase (CYP11B1/CYP11B2). In these rare cases, the synthesis of aldosterone is under the control of the adrenocorticotrophic hormone, so treatment with glucocorticoids (dexamethasone 0.25-1.0 mg daily) is therefore possible (glucocorticoid-remediable aldosteronism). Excessive deoxycorticosterone (DOC) causes the same symptoms and signs as hyperaldosteronism. Excessive DOC is found in patients with adrenal tumours that secrete DOC, in those with hereditary or acquired disorders with dysfunctioning glucocorticoid receptors, or in those with congenital hyperplasia of the adrenal glands (deficiency of 17α-hydroxylase or 11β-hydroxylase). Liddle's syndrome is a constitutive hyperactivity of the transepithelial transport of sodium, which under normal conditions is controlled by the mineralocorticoid receptor. Plasma renin and aldosterone concentrations are suppressed and the plasma potassium concentration may be normal. In contrast, plasma aldosterone and renin concentrations are increased in patients with hypokalaemic hypertension which represents secondary aldosteronism. The increased aldosterone is the consequence of stimulated renin activity due to renal or renovascular or other disorders, antihypertensive drugs or other medications. In conclusion, a work-up for corticosteroid-induced hypertension is indicated in patients with hypokalaemic hypertension and in those with severe hypertension even in the absence of hypokalaemia, and in hypertensive patients with a family history of cardiovascular diseases.

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