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Effect of antihypertensive treatment on renal function in primary (essential) hypertension

Johannes FE Mann, MD
Karl F Hilgers, MD
Section Editors
George L Bakris, MD
Norman M Kaplan, MD
Deputy Editor
John P Forman, MD, MSc


Renal function may deteriorate because of uncontrolled hypertension. Even mild elevations in blood pressure (BP) are associated with increased renal arteriosclerosis in autopsies [1]. Since adequate control of hypertension may slow the rate of renal dysfunction [2], the effects of antihypertensive therapy on renal function need to be carefully considered.

Antihypertensive therapy has both acute and chronic effects on renal function in patients with primary hypertension (formerly called "essential" hypertension). In early disease, for example, renal function is usually normal; in this setting, lowering the BP induces little change in glomerular filtration rate (GFR) [3] (see "Renal effects of ACE inhibitors in hypertension"). Blacks may have an initial decrease in GFR compared with an increase in whites [4].

This topic reviews the chronic and acute effects of antihypertensive therapy in patients with primary hypertension. Goal BP and the choice of antihypertensive agent are discussed in separate topics. (See "What is goal blood pressure in the treatment of hypertension?" and "Antihypertensive therapy and progression of nondiabetic chronic kidney disease in adults" and "Treatment of hypertension in patients with diabetes mellitus".)


Patients with prolonged uncontrolled hypertension are at increased risk of developing chronic renal failure [5]. The risk of this complication is much greater in blacks and in patients with moderate and severe hypertension (figure 1). (See "Hypertensive complications in blacks".)

It must be emphasized, however, that the percentage of patients with mild hypertension who develop end-stage renal disease (ESRD) is relatively small, being less than 1 percent after 16 years in the MRFIT trial [5]. (See "Clinical features, diagnosis, and treatment of hypertensive nephrosclerosis", section on 'Incidence of renal failure'.)

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Nov 17, 2017.
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