Spironolactone was first developed over 50 years ago as a potent mineralocorticoid receptor (MR) antagonist with undesirable side effects; it was followed a decade ago by eplerenone, which is less potent but much more MR-specific. From a marginal role as a potassium-sparing diuretic, spironolactone was shown to be an extraordinarily effective adjunctive agent in the treatment of progressive heart failure, as was eplerenone in subsequent heart failure trials. Neither acts as an aldosterone antagonist in the heart as the cardiac MR are occupied by cortisol, which becomes an aldosterone mimic in conditions of tissue damage. The accepted term "MR antagonist", (as opposed to "aldosterone antagonist" or, worse, "aldosterone blocker"), should be retained, despite the demonstration that they act not to deny agonist access but as inverse agonists. The prevalence of primary aldosteronism is now recognized as accounting for about 10% of hypertension, with recent evidence suggesting that this figure may be considerably higher: in over two thirds of cases of primary aldosteronism therapy including MR antagonists is standard of care. MR antagonists are safe and vasoprotective in uncomplicated essential hypertension, even in diabetics, and at low doses they also specifically lower blood pressure in patients with so-called resistant hypertension. Nowhere are more than 1% of patients with primary aldosteronism ever diagnosed and specifically treated. Given the higher risk profile in patients with primary aldosteronism than that of age, sex, and blood pressure matched essential hypertension, on public health grounds alone the guidelines for first-line treatment of all hypertension should mandate inclusion of a low-dose MR antagonist.
Keywords: eplerenone; inverse agonists; primary aldosteronism; public health; spironolactone.