Primary hyperaldosteronism is characterized by high plasma and urinary aldosterone and suppressed PRA. Renin suppression is due to aldosterone-dependent sodium retention and mild extracellular volume expansion. We observed three patients with primary hyperaldosteronism, severe refractory hypertension, and normal to high normal PRA levels whose aldosterone/renin ratios were still elevated because of disproportionately high aldosterone levels. All available medical data on the patients as well as publications on the aldosterone/renin relationship in primary hyperaldosteronism were reviewed to explain the unusual findings.
In one patient, histologically proven renal arteriolosclerosis was the probable cause of the escape of PRA from suppression by an aldosterone-producing adenoma. In the other two patients, hypertensive kidney damage due to primary hyperaldosteronism was the most likely explanation for the inappropriately high PRA, as in patient 1. All patients had high normal or slightly elevated serum creatinine levels and responded to 200 mg spironolactone/day with increased serum creatinine and hyperkalemia. Hyperkalemia was probably due to a decreased filtered load of sodium and a spironolactone-induced decrease in mineralocorticoid function. Two patients were cured of hyperaldosteronism by unilateral adrenalectomy but still need some antihypertensive therapy, whereas one patient has probable bilateral adrenal disease, with normal blood pressure on a low dose of spironolactone.
In patients with severe hypertension due to primary hyperaldosteronism, PRA can escape suppression if hypertensive kidney damage supervenes. An increased aldosterone/PRA ratio is still useful in screening for primary hyperaldosteronism. These patients may respond to spironolactone therapy with a strong increase in serum creatinine and potassium. Early specific treatment of primary hyperaldosteronism is therefore indicated, and even a patient with advanced hypertension will profit from adrenalectomy or cautious spironolactone treatment.