HCTZ, does the job and my drugstore stocks it: HCTZ has been shown in clinical trials to be effective in reducing blood pressure, and remains the most readily available thiazide in pharmacies. It exists in many combination pills, which are also extremely affordable. There is a small amount of data suggesting that HCTZ causes less hypokalemia than chlorthalidone, but results are mixed.
How did they match up head to head? Naturally, the definitive study is still waiting for an enterprising renal fellow to come along and take charge. There have been two studies that indicate chlorthalidone might be the more efficacious agent.
- As part of the MRFIT (Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial) trial, first published in the 1980s, physicians were initially given the option of HCTZ or chlorthalidone as the step 1 diuretic in the treatment group. After five years of the study, however, the protocol was changed to recommend only chlorthalidone, given a significant mortality benefit compared to participants on HCTZ.
- The only trial comparing the two drugs head to head, with the primary purpose of assessing blood pressure reduction, was published in 2006 by Ernst et al. The trial was a single-blinded crossover study assessing the antihypertensive effects of HCTZ 25 mg daily (force-titrated to 50 mg/d) versus chlorthalidone 12.5 mg/d (force-titrated to 25 mg/d). After eight weeks, the chlorthalidone group showed a significantly greater reduction in 24h ambulatory blood pressure compared to HCTZ, with most of the difference occurring in nighttime BP measurements. Interestingly, a significant order-drug-time interaction was found, so the second half of the crossover study was not analyzed. Hypokalemia rates were similar in the two groups.
In my mind, it seems reasonable to choose chlorthalidone over HCTZ in patients for whom adding a thiazide to their antihypertensive regimen is appropriate. For those who are stable on HCTZ, the hassle of rechecking potassium levels after switching agents may not be worth the potential benefits. For those patients who require more than one BP agent (most of our patients), and especially ACE inhibition, the HCTZ-lisinopril combo is an attractive and inexpensive option that is hard to beat.