Primary aldosteronism (PA) secondary to excessive and/or autonomous aldosterone secretion from the renin–angiotensin system accounts for ∼10% of cases of hypertension and is primarily caused by bilateral adrenal hyperplasia (BAH) or aldosterone-producing adenomas (APAs). Although the diagnosis has traditionally been supported by low serum potassium levels, normokalaemic and even normotensive forms of PA have been identified expanding further the clinical phenotype. Moreover, recent evidence has shown that serum aldosterone correlates with increased blood pressure (BP) in the general population and even moderately raised aldosterone levels are linked to increased cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. In addition, aldosterone antagonists are effective in BP control even in patients without evidence of dysregulated aldosterone secretion. These findings indicate a higher prevalence of aldosterone excess among hypertensive patients than previously considered that could be attributed to disease heterogeneity, aldosterone level fluctuations related to an ACTH effect or inadequate sensitivity of current diagnostic means to identify apparent aldosterone excess. In addition, functioning aberrant receptors expressed in the adrenal tissue have been found in a subset of PA cases that could also be related to its pathogenesis. Recently a number of specific genetic alterations, mainly involving ion homeostasis across the membrane of zona glomerulosa, have been detected in ∼50% of patients with APAs. Although specific genotype/phenotype correlations have not been clearly identified, differential expression of these genetic alterations could also account for the wide clinical phenotype, variations in disease prevalence and performance of diagnostic tests. In the present review, we critically analyze the current means used to diagnose PA along with the role that ACTH, aberrant receptor expression and genetic alterations may exert, and provide evidence for an increased prevalence of aldosterone dysregulation in patients with essential hypertension and pre-hypertension.

Authors: George Piaditis, Athina Markou, Labrini Papanastasiou, Ioannis I Androulakis, Gregory Kaltsas
Keywords: prevalence, diagnosis, ACTH, genetic alterations, hypertension
DOI Number: 10.1530/EJE-14-0537      Publication Year: 2015

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