Context: Establishing relative benefit or harm from specific antihypertensive agents is limited by the complex array of studies that compare treatments. Network meta-analysis combines direct and indirect evidence to better define risk or benefit.
Objective: To summarize the available clinical trial evidence concerning the safety and efficacy of various antihypertensive therapies used as first-line agents and evaluated in terms of major cardiovascular disease end points and all-cause mortality.
Data sources and study selection: We used previous meta-analyses, MEDLINE searches, and journal reviews from January 1995 through December 2002. We identified long-term randomized controlled trials that assessed major cardiovascular disease end points as an outcome. Eligible studies included both those with placebo-treated or untreated controls and those with actively treated controls.
Data extraction: Network meta-analysis was used to combine direct within-trial between-drug comparisons with indirect evidence from the other trials. The indirect comparisons, which preserve the within-trial randomized findings, were constructed from trials that had one treatment in common.
Data synthesis: Data were combined from 42 clinical trials that included 192 478 patients randomized to 7 major treatment strategies, including placebo. For all outcomes, low-dose diuretics were superior to placebo: coronary heart disease (CHD; RR, 0.79; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.69-0.92); congestive heart failure (CHF; RR, 0.51; 95% CI, 0.42-0.62); stroke (RR, 0.71; 0.63-0.81); cardiovascular disease events (RR, 0.76; 95% CI, 0.69-0.83); cardiovascular disease mortality (RR, 0.81; 95% CI, 0.73-0.92); and total mortality (RR, 0.90; 95% CI, 0.84-0.96). None of the first-line treatment strategies-beta-blockers, angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, calcium channel blockers (CCBs), alpha-blockers, and angiotensin receptor blockers-was significantly better than low-dose diuretics for any outcome. Compared with CCBs, low-dose diuretics were associated with reduced risks of cardiovascular disease events (RR, 0.94; 95% CI, 0.89-1.00) and CHF (RR, 0.74; 95% CI, 0.67-0.81). Compared with ACE inhibitors, low-dose diuretics were associated with reduced risks of CHF (RR, 0.88; 95% CI, 0.80-0.96), cardiovascular disease events (RR, 0.94; 95% CI, 0.89-1.00), and stroke (RR, 0.86; 0.77-0.97). Compared with beta-blockers, low-dose diuretics were associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease events (RR, 0.89; 95% CI, 0.80-0.98). Compared with alpha-blockers, low-dose diuretics were associated with reduced risks of CHF (RR, 0.51; 95% CI, 0.43-0.60) and cardiovascular disease events (RR, 0.84; 95% CI, 0.75-0.93). Blood pressure changes were similar between comparison treatments.
Conclusions: Low-dose diuretics are the most effective first-line treatment for preventing the occurrence of cardiovascular disease morbidity and mortality. Clinical practice and treatment guidelines should reflect this evidence, and future trials should use low-dose diuretics as the standard for clinically useful comparisons.