FROM THE JOURNAL OF CLINICAL ENDOCRINOLOGY AND METABOLISM

The Endocrine Society’s updated Clinical Practice Guideline for managing primary aldosteronism is “a clarion call” for physicians to recognize the impact of this substantial public health problem and dramatically ramp up their screening and treatment efforts and was published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

This update differs from the previous (2008) version of the guideline in “the explicit recognition of primary aldosteronism as a major public health issue and not merely a matter of case detection, diagnosis, and treatment of individual patients,” wrote John W. Funder, MD , and his associates on the task force that compiled the guideline.

Many physicians in current practice were taught that the disorder “is a rare and benign cause of hypertension, [and] thus merely a footnote to the management of hypertension as a whole. Cardiologists usually write guidelines for hypertension with some input from nephrologists and clinical pharmacologists [but] little or none from endocrinologists,” they noted.

As a result, most patients with hypertension and occult aldosteronism are never screened for the disorder and receive suboptimal care. Primary care providers must be “made keenly aware” that the proportion of people with hypertension who have aldosteronism is much higher than previously thought (at roughly 10%), that another 20% of hypertensive people have “inappropriate aldosterone secretion,” and that both groups respond remarkably well to medical therapy, particularly to mineralocorticoid-receptor antagonists. This is critical because hypertensive patients with aldosteronism are at much greater risk for cardiovascular morbidity and mortality than their age-, sex-, and BP-matched counterparts who don’t have aldosteronism, said Dr. Funder of the Hudson Institute of Medical Research, Clayton (VIC), Australia, and his associates.

In addition to recommendations regarding screening and treatment and summaries of the evidence on which those recommendations are based, the new guideline offers a remarks section for each recommendation, which includes technical suggestions to help clinicians implement them in real-world practice.

Among the Guideline’s recommendations:

• Screen for primary aldosteronism all patients who have sustained BP above 150/100 mm Hg, hypertension resistant to three conventional antihypertensive drugs, hypertension that requires four or more drugs to control it, hypertension plus hypokalemia, hypertension plus adrenal incidentaloma, hypertension plus sleep apnea, hypertension plus a family history of early-onset hypertension or stroke at a young age, and hypertension plus a first-degree relative with primary aldosteronism.

Use the plasma aldosterone/renin ratio for this screening.

• Do one or more confirmatory tests to definitively confirm the diagnosis before proceeding to subtype classification. The exception to this recommendation is patients who develop spontaneous hypokalemia.

• Do adrenal CT as the initial step in subtype classification, to exclude large masses that may signal adrenocortical carcinoma and to help interventional radiologists and surgeons make anatomic assessments.

Before surgery, an experienced radiologist should determine whether adrenal disease is unilateral or bilateral using adrenal venous sampling.

Order genetic testing for patients with disease onset before age 20 years and for those who have a family history of either aldosteronism or early stroke.

• Laparoscopic adrenalectomy is the surgery of choice for most patients with unilateral adrenal disease. For patients unwilling or unable to undergo surgery or further investigations, prescribe a mineralocorticoid-receptor antagonist.

Medical therapy is the treatment of choice for bilateral adrenal disease. Spironolactone is the first-line agent, and eplerenone is an alternative agent to offer. This guideline is intended to be revised further as management evolves over the next 5 years. It is likely that by then, a rapid, inexpensive confirmatory test will be available to definitively establish the diagnosis and that third- and perhaps fourth-generation mineralocorticoid-receptor antagonists will be available for treatment. Simpler and more accurate methods of measuring plasma aldosterone concentration and direct renin concentration, which “would be a game changer for the primary care physician,” are currently being developed, Dr. Funder and his associates said ( J. Clin. Endocrinol. Metab. 2016 May;101:1889-916 ).

In the meantime, “the main strategy is to convince primary-care physicians to screen for primary aldosteronism in all at-risk hypertensive patients,” they noted.

Copies of the full Guideline are available at societyservices@endocrine.org or by calling 202-971-3636.

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