Importance: Chlorthalidone is currently recommended as the preferred thiazide diuretic to treat hypertension, but no trials have directly compared risks and benefits.
Objective: To compare the effectiveness and safety of chlorthalidone and hydrochlorothiazide as first-line therapies for hypertension in real-world practice.
Design, setting, and participants: This is a Large-Scale Evidence Generation and Evaluation in a Network of Databases (LEGEND) observational comparative cohort study with large-scale propensity score stratification and negative-control and synthetic positive-control calibration on databases spanning January 2001 through December 2018. Outpatient and inpatient care episodes of first-time users of antihypertensive monotherapy in the United States based on 2 administrative claims databases and 1 collection of electronic health records were analyzed. Analysis began June 2018.
Exposures: Chlorthalidone and hydrochlorothiazide.
Main outcomes and measures: The primary outcomes were acute myocardial infarction, hospitalization for heart failure, ischemic or hemorrhagic stroke, and a composite cardiovascular disease outcome including the first 3 outcomes and sudden cardiac death. Fifty-one safety outcomes were measured.
Results: Of 730 225 individuals (mean [SD] age, 51.5 [13.3] years; 450 100 women [61.6%]), 36 918 were dispensed or prescribed chlorthalidone and had 149 composite outcome events, and 693 337 were dispensed or prescribed hydrochlorothiazide and had 3089 composite outcome events. No significant difference was found in the associated risk of myocardial infarction, hospitalized heart failure, or stroke, with a calibrated hazard ratio for the composite cardiovascular outcome of 1.00 for chlorthalidone compared with hydrochlorothiazide (95% CI, 0.85-1.17). Chlorthalidone was associated with a significantly higher risk of hypokalemia (hazard ratio [HR], 2.72; 95% CI, 2.38-3.12), hyponatremia (HR, 1.31; 95% CI, 1.16-1.47), acute renal failure (HR, 1.37; 95% CI, 1.15-1.63), chronic kidney disease (HR, 1.24; 95% CI, 1.09-1.42), and type 2 diabetes mellitus (HR, 1.21; 95% CI, 1.12-1.30). Chlorthalidone was associated with a significantly lower risk of diagnosed abnormal weight gain (HR, 0.73; 95% CI, 0.61-0.86).
Conclusions and relevance: This study found that chlorthalidone use was not associated with significant cardiovascular benefits when compared with hydrochlorothiazide, while its use was associated with greater risk of renal and electrolyte abnormalities. These findings do not support current recommendations to prefer chlorthalidone vs hydrochlorothiazide for hypertension treatment in first-time users was found. We used advanced methods, sensitivity analyses, and diagnostics, but given the possibility of residual confounding and the limited length of observation periods, further study is warranted.