Trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole and risk of sudden death among patients taking spironolactone

CMAJ. 2015 Mar 3;187(4):E138-E143. doi: 10.1503/cmaj.140816. Epub 2015 Feb 2.


Background: Trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole increases the risk of hyperkalemia when used with spironolactone. We examined whether this drug combination is associated with an increased risk of sudden death, a consequence of severe hyperkalemia.

Methods: We conducted a population-based nested case-control study involving Ontario residents aged 66 years or older who received spironolactone between Apr. 1, 1994, and Dec. 31, 2011. Within this group, we identified cases as patients who died of sudden death within 14 days after receiving a prescription for trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole or one of the other study antibiotics (amoxicillin, ciprofloxacin, norfloxacin or nitrofurantoin). For each case, we identified up to 4 controls matched by age and sex. We determined the odds ratio (OR) for the association between sudden death and exposure to each antibiotic relative to amoxicillin, adjusted for predictors of sudden death using a disease risk index.

Results: Of the 11,968 patients who died of sudden death while receiving spironolactone, we identified 328 whose death occurred within 14 days after antibiotic exposure. Compared with amoxicillin, trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole was associated with a more than twofold increase in the risk of sudden death (adjusted OR 2.46, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.55-3.90). Ciprofloxacin (adjusted OR 1.55, 95% CI 1.02-2.38) and nitrofurantoin (adjusted OR 1.70, 95% CI 1.03-2.79) were also associated with an increased risk of sudden death, although the risk with nitrofurantoin was not apparent in a sensitivity analysis.

Interpretation: The antibiotic trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole was associated with an increased risk of sudden death among older patients taking spironolactone. When clinically appropriate, alternative antibiotics should be considered in these patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anti-Infective Agents, Urinary / administration & dosage
  • Anti-Infective Agents, Urinary / adverse effects*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Death, Sudden / etiology*
  • Drug Interactions
  • Drug Therapy, Combination / adverse effects
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hyperkalemia / chemically induced*
  • Hyperkalemia / mortality*
  • Male
  • Mineralocorticoid Receptor Antagonists / administration & dosage
  • Mineralocorticoid Receptor Antagonists / adverse effects*
  • Odds Ratio
  • Ontario / epidemiology
  • Risk Factors
  • Spironolactone / administration & dosage
  • Spironolactone / adverse effects*
  • Trimethoprim, Sulfamethoxazole Drug Combination / administration & dosage
  • Trimethoprim, Sulfamethoxazole Drug Combination / adverse effects*


  • Anti-Infective Agents, Urinary
  • Mineralocorticoid Receptor Antagonists
  • Spironolactone
  • Trimethoprim, Sulfamethoxazole Drug Combination