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Hyperaldosteronism Clinical Presentation

  • Author: George P Chrousos, MD, FAAP, MACP, MACE, FRCP(London); Chief Editor: Stephen Kemp, MD, PhD  more...
Updated: Dec 10, 2015


Primary hyperaldosteronism may be asymptomatic, particularly in its early stages. When symptoms are present, they may be related to hypertension (if severe), hypokalemia, or both.

The spectrum of hypertension-related symptoms includes the following:

  • Headaches
  • Facial flushing
  • If hypertension is severe, weakness, visual impairment, impaired consciousness, and seizures (hypertensive encephalopathy)

Hypokalemia can be precipitated by non–potassium-sparing diuretics or sodium loading. Symptoms of hypokalemia include the following:

  • Constipation
  • Polyuria and polydipsia (because of impaired renal concentrating ability)
  • Weakness
  • If the serum potassium is low enough, paralysis and disturbances of cardiac rhythm [25]

Hyperglycemia or frank diabetes mellitus is possible because insulin secretion is a potassium-dependent process that may be impaired by hypokalemia.

If secondary hyperaldosteronism is suspected as the cause of hypertension, the history should include questions about flushing, diaphoresis, anxiety attacks, and headaches (pheochromocytoma) and about hematuria and abdominal fullness (Wilms tumor or other renal tumor), in addition to the above symptoms.[26, 27]

For patients in whom secondary hyperaldosteronism is suggested, questions should be specifically directed at potential causes (eg, the presence and duration of swelling, the child’s exercise tolerance).

Information should be sought about a family history of essential hypertension and familial syndromes, including the following:

  • Neurofibromatosis (associated with renal artery stenosis and pheochromocytoma)
  • Multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN) type 2 – This includes MEN 2A (parathyroid adenoma, medullary thyroid carcinoma [MTC], and pheochromocytoma) and MEN 2B (mucosal neuromas of eyelids, lips, and tongue with a long thin face, pheochromocytoma, and MTC)
  • von Hippel-Lindau syndrome - Cerebellar hemangioblastoma; renal and pancreatic cysts and carcinoma; hemangiomas of the retina, liver, and adrenal glands; and pheochromocytomas

Physical Examination

In any child or adolescent with significant hypertension, a thorough investigation into the cause is warranted. Hypermineralocorticoidism should be considered in any patient with associated hypokalemia, though it should not be excluded in the absence of hypokalemia. In patients with significant hypertension, blood pressure should be measured several times, preferably with an automated device after a supine rest.

Examination of the hypertensive patient should include the following:

  • General examination – Be alert for dysmorphic features (eg, MEN 2B), evidence of neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF-1; ie, café-au-lait lesions, axillary freckling, short stature, and evidence of disease in parents), and features of Cushing syndrome (ie, obesity, short stature, striae, and hirsutism)
  • Neck examination – Assess for a thyroid mass (MTC associated with MEN 2)
  • Cardiovascular examination - Assess left ventricular muscle mass and exclusion of murmurs and pulse differential (eg, coarctation of the aorta); check for abdominal bruits (renal artery stenosis) and peripheral edema (secondary hyperaldosteronism)
  • Abdominal examination – Look for masses (Wilms tumor), hepatomegaly (cardiac failure or liver disease), splenomegaly, and ascites
  • Neurologic examination - Examine the eyes, and assess visual acuity (severe hypertension may interfere with vision); examine the eye grounds (looking for retinal angiomas [von Hippel-Lindau syndrome]); be alert for hypertensive retinopathy, which is of prognostic significance, including arterial narrowing, hemorrhages, cotton-wool spots, and papilledema; assess for Lisch nodules of the iris (NF-1)
  • Strength assessment - Evaluation for weakness, focal neurologic signs, or impaired conscious state in a patient with severe hypertension, which requires urgent treatment and central nervous system (CNS) imaging to exclude infarction or hemorrhage
  • Skin examination - In patients who have secondary hyperaldosteronism, look for evidence of NF-1


The main complications of primary hyperaldosteronism are hypertension and hypokalemia.

Hypertension due to hyperaldosteronism can damage many organs and organ systems, including the heart (hypertrophy and myocardial fibrosis), the blood vessels (vascular remodeling with medial and intimal hypertrophy and acceleration of atherogenesis), the eyes (arterial narrowing, retinal ischemia, and papilledema), the kidneys (progressive deterioration with nephrosclerosis), and the brain (hemorrhage).

When patients with untreated PA are compared with patients who have essential hypertension, the risk of previous myocardial infarction or acute coronary syndrome is increased approximately 2.5-fold, cerebrovascular event or transient ischemic attack is increased approximately 3–4-fold, sustained cardiac arrhythmia is increased approximately 5-fold, and peripheral arterial disease is increased approximately 3-fold.[21] Renal disease is also increased in patients with PA. The frequency of 24-hour microalbuminuria in patients with PA (both APA and IHA) is twice that of patients with essential hypertension. Renal insufficiency has been reported to occur in 7-29% of patients with PA, and proteinuria has been reported in 8-24%.[24]

Aggressive blood pressure control and early diagnosis and treatment of the underlying hyperaldosteronism minimize the risk.

Hypokalemia initially results in weakness, constipation, and polyuria; when it is more severe, it may cause cardiac arrhythmias. Patients receiving cardiac drugs are at greater risk for this complication. Hypokalemia also impairs insulin secretion and can promote the development of diabetes mellitus. Of note, hypokalemia should not be considered a diagnostic feature of primary hyperaldosteronism. In some studies, only a minority of patients with PA (9-37%) had hypokalemia.[22] Thus, normokalemic hypertension constitutes the most common presentation of the disease; hypokalemia is probably present in only the more severe cases.

Patients with adenomas are more likely to develop this complication, as are patients who have milder disease but receive treatment with diuretics for their hypertension before the hyperaldosteronism is diagnosed.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

George P Chrousos, MD, FAAP, MACP, MACE, FRCP(London) Professor and Chair, First Department of Pediatrics, Athens University Medical School, Aghia Sophia Children's Hospital, Greece; UNESCO Chair on Adolescent Health Care, University of Athens, Greece

George P Chrousos, MD, FAAP, MACP, MACE, FRCP(London) is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Physicians, American Pediatric Society, American Society for Clinical Investigation, Association of American Physicians, Endocrine Society, Pediatric Endocrine Society, Society for Pediatric Research, American College of Endocrinology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Amalia Sertedaki, PhD Research Associate, Molecular Endocrinology Laboratory, Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, First Department of Pediatrics, Aghia Sophia Children's Hospital, University of Athens Medical School, Greece

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Eleni Magdalini Kyritsi, MD, PhD Clinical Resident in Endocrinology, Division of Endocrinology, Metabolism and Diabetes, First Department of Pediatrics, "Aghia Sophia" Children's Hospital, University of Athens Medical School, Greece

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Stephen Kemp, MD, PhD Former Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Section of Pediatric Endocrinology, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences College of Medicine, Arkansas Children's Hospital

Stephen Kemp, MD, PhD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, American Pediatric Society, Endocrine Society, Phi Beta Kappa, Southern Medical Association, Southern Society for Pediatric Research

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Antony Lafferty, MB ChB, FRACP Senior Lecturer of Pediatric Endocrinology, Monash University Department of Pediatrics, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, and Princess Margaret Hospital for Children, Perth, Western Australia

Antony Lafferty, MB ChB, FRACP is a member of the following medical societies: Endocrine Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Lynne Lipton Levitsky, MD Chief, Pediatric Endocrine Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital; Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School

Lynne Lipton Levitsky, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Diabetes Association, American Pediatric Society, Endocrine Society, Pediatric Endocrine Society, and Society for Pediatric Research

Disclosure: Pfizer Grant/research funds P.I.; Tercica Grant/research funds Other; Eli Lily Grant/research funds PI; NovoNordisk Grant/research funds PI; NovoNordisk Consulting fee Consulting; Onyx Heart Valve Consulting fee Consulting

Thomas A Wilson, MD Professor of Clinical Pediatrics, Chief and Program Director, Division of Pediatric Endocrinology, Department of Pediatrics, The School of Medicine at Stony Brook University Medical Center

Thomas A Wilson, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Endocrine Society, Pediatric Endocrine Society, and Phi Beta Kappa

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Mary L Windle, PharmD Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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Steroid biosynthetic pathway.
Physiologic regulation of the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone axis.
Table 1. Factors affecting interpretation of ARR results
False Negative Results
Factor Aldosterone Renin ARR
K-sparing diuretics ↑↑
K-wasting diuretics (Non-K-sparing diuretics, such as thiazides, induce renal potassium losses and reduce plasma potassium concentrations, leading to decreased aldosterone secretion.) →↑ ↑↑
ACE inhibitors ↑↑
Angiotensin receptor blockers ↑↑
DHPs (It is a shared opinion that dihydropyridinic calcium channel blockers do not significantly affect aldosterone secretion, mainly causing an increase in PRA, which rarely gives false negatives.) →↓
Other conditions
Hypokalemia →↑
Sodium-restricted diet ↑↑
Pregnancy ↑↑
Renovascular hypertension ↑↑
Malignant hypertension ↑↑
False Positive Results
Beta-adrenergic blockers ↓↓
Central alpha-2 agonists (eg, clonidine, alpha-methyldopa) ↓↓
Other conditions
Potassium loading →↓
Sodium-loaded diet ↓↓
Advancing age ↓↓
Renal dysfunction →↑
Luteal phase of menstrual cycle PRA: Unchanged
Antihypertensive Medications With Minimal Effect on the ARR
Prazosin, doxazosin, terazosin   ←→
Verapamil, hydralazine   ←→
Other medications
Renin inhibitors (Renin inhibitors raise the ARR if renin is measured as PRA [false positive] and lower it if measured as DAR concentration [false negative.]) ↑↓ ↑↓
OCPs (OCPs have little effect on ARR when renin is measured as PRA. Use of immunometric measurements of DAR rather than PRA may give false positive results. Subdermal etonogestrel has no effect on ARR.) ↓DAR
Liddle syndrome Normal

ARR, aldosterone-renin ratio; NSAIDs, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs; K, potassium; ACE, angiotensin converting enzyme; ARBs, angiotensin II type 1 receptor blockers; DHPs, dihydropyridines; PHA-2, pseudohypoaldosteronism type 2; PRA, plasma renin activity; DAR, direct active renin; OCPs, oral contraceptive agents; SSRIs, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors

Table 2. Drugs Used in the Management of Idiopathic Hyperaldosteronism in Children
Drug Class Pediatric Dose
Spironolactone Aldosterone antagonist 0-10 kg: 6.25 mg/dose PO q12h

11-20 kg: 12.5 mg/dose PO q12h

21-40 kg: 25 mg/dose PO q12h

>40 kg: 25 mg PO q8h

Potassium canrenoate Aldosterone antagonist 3-8 mg/kg IV qd; not to exceed 400 mg
Amiloride Potassium-sparing diuretic 0.2 mg/kg q12h
Triamterene Potassium-sparing diuretic 2 mg/kg/dose q8-24h
Nifedipine Dihydropyridine calcium channel antagonist 0.25-0.5 mg/kg PO q6-8h
Amlodipine Calcium channel antagonist 0.05-0.2 mg/ day PO
Doxazosin Alpha1 -specific adrenergic antagonist 0.02-0.1 mg/day; not to exceed 4 mg
Prazosin Alpha1 -specific adrenergic antagonist 0.005 mg/kg test dose, then 0.025-0.1 mg/kg/dose q6h; not to exceed 0.5 mg/dose
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