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Researchers may have discovered why a treatment for high blood pressure increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Scientists at the Johns Hopkins University, in the US, found that diuretics commonly prescribed to patients suffering hypertension caused a drop in blood potassium levels.
Lead researcher Dr Tariq Shafi, of the university’s School of Medicine, said: “Previous studies have told us that when patients take diuretic thiazides, potassium levels drop and the risk of diabetes climbs to 50%.
“Now, for the first time, we think we have concrete information connecting the dots.”
The drugs are designed to speed up fluid loss but also deplete important chemicals, including potassium.
Thiazides, such as chlorthalidone, are an inexpensive and highly effective way to treat high blood pressure and have been used widely for decades. However, their association with diabetes has forced many hypertension suffers to use other medications that can be several times as expensive, says Shafi.
Dr Shafi said: “This study shows us that as long as physicians monitor and regulate potassium levels, thiazides could be used safely, saving patients thousands of dollars a year.
“It could be as simple as increasing the consumption of potassium-rich foods like bananas and oranges and/or reducing salt intake, both of which will keep potassium from dropping.”
Copyright Press Association 2008