One in five patients taking diuretics commonly prescribed for high blood pressure or heart conditions end up with reduced sodium and potassium levels, according to a study published in the January issue of the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology.
But as few as a third of patients on the drugs have their electrolyte levels tested — despite the fact that reduced levels can lead to a wide range of health problems.
A team from The University of Nottingham and Queen’s Medical Centre reviewed the records of more than 32,000 adults from six general practices in the East Midlands.
Professor Ian Hall, head of the Division of Therapeutics in The University of Nottingham’s School of Medical and Surgical Sciences, is a co-author of the paper. He said: “Patients taking higher doses of thiazide diuretics are at particular risk of low potassium levels and elderly patients are at a particular risk of low sodium levels.
“This points to the need for prescribing low doses of thiazide diuretics and monitoring sodium and potassium levels to reduce the risk and increase the detection and treatment of these electrolyte abnormalities.
“Despite the fact that more than a fifth of the patients we looked at suffered from reduced electrolyte levels, less than a third of the people given this commonly used type of drug appear to have had tests to check their levels.”
The authors stress that people should never stop taking prescribed medicine without first seeking advice from their GP.
Professor Hall added: “In our view, if people are on thiazide diuretics, it would be sensible for them to ask their doctor about routine testing for sodium and potassium levels next time they have an appointment or go to the surgery for a medication review.
“This is particularly important if people have been feeling unwell, are elderly, taking other heart medication or are on higher doses of the drug.
Professor Ian Hall | alfa
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