Angiotensin II has a major effect on mineralocorticoid hormone synthesis in patients with idiopathic hyperaldosteronism; it has little or no effect in those with an aldosterone-producing adenoma. To determine if this difference could be of use in clinically separating these two forms of primary aldosteronism, saline infusion tests were performed in 20 patients-14 with surgically proved aldosterone-producing adenoma and six with Idiopathic hyperaldosteronism. With the patients receiving a balanced diet containing 120 meq of sodium, 1,250 ml of isotonic saline was infused intravenously between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. after overnight recumbency. Plasma samples were obtained immediately before and after the infusion. Plasma cortisol level decreased appropriately in both groups, but plasma renin concentration decreased only in those patients with idiopathic hyperaldosteronism (p <0.05). Aldosterone and 18-hydroxycorticosterone levels decreased in both groups. To account for the circadian variation in adrenocorticotropin levels during the course of saline infusion, 18-hydroxycorticosterone/cortisol and aldosterone/cortisol ratios were examined. Both ratios increased in every patient with aldosterone-producing adenoma (p <0.01 and p <0.001, respectively), but these ratios remained unchanged or decreased in the patients with idiopathic hyperaldosteronism. This divergent variation in ratios after saline infusion allows for the differentiation of patients with an aldosterone-producing adenoma from those with idiopathic hyperaldosteronism. In patients with primary aldosteronism, an 18-hydroxycorticosterone/cortisol ratio of less than 3.0 or an aldosterone/cortisol ratio of less than 2.2 after saline infusion is diagnostic of idiopathic hyperaldosteronism.
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