Hypertension associated with alcohol withdrawal: assessment of mechanisms and complications.
Two hundred and fifty-six consecutive alcoholics admitted for detoxification, but not having delirium tremens, were evaluated for hypertension. Thirty-three per cent (84) of the alcoholics had a blood pressure greater than or equal to 160/95 mm Hg on or within 72 hr of admission. In 71% (60 of 84) of alcoholics with hypertension, pressure elevation was transitory, whereas 29% (24 of 84) required therapy. After 4 to 5 days of abstinence, alcoholics with transitory hypertension, whose blood pressure was no longer elevated, had a larger increment of pressure (p less than 0.001) with a cold pressor test than did normotensive alcoholics. Hypertensive alcoholics were older and tended to use greater amounts of alcohol, but their liver enzymes, alcohol levels on admission, and serum magnesium concentrations did not distinguish them from normotensive alcoholics. Basal plasma renin activity and epinephrine were elevated in both hypertensive and normotensive alcoholics, whereas plasma norepinephrine was normal. Although plasma renin activity (4.08 +/- 0.9 vs. 2.88 +/- 0.4 ng/ml/hr) and epinephrine (138 +/- 17 vs. 108 +/- 28 pg/ml) were higher in alcoholics with hypertension than in normotensive alcoholics, differences were not significant. However, elevated plasma epinephrine was found in 86% of alcoholics with hypertension, whereas only 44% of normotensive subjects had elevations (chi 2 = 5.49; p = 0.01). Although alcoholics with hypertension demonstrated an exaggerated catecholamine response with the cold pressor test, these changes per se did not explain the elevations in blood pressure. Thus, a transitory, reactive form of hypertension associated with increased catecholamines and vascular hyperresponsiveness is present in alcoholics.
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