Losartan potassium is the first of a new class of orally active antihypertensive drugs which antagonise the action of angiotensin (AT) II at the AT1 receptor subtype. Losartan potassium is converted by the liver to the active metabolite E-3174, which is a more potent antagonist at the AT1 receptor. E-3174 is responsible for most of the pharmacological effects of losartan potassium, and its long half-life contributes to the extended duration of action of the drug.
Losartan potassium is effective as a once-daily antihypertensive agent. In mild to moderate hypertension, losartan potassium has similar efficacy to enalapril, atenolol and felodipine extended release. When losartan potassium is combined with hydrochlorothiazide there is a further reduction in blood pressure.
Losartan potassium is well tolerated in mild, moderate and severe essential hypertension, with dizziness being reported as the only drug-related adverse effect. The overall rate of patient withdrawal from therapy due to adverse experiences with losartan potassium is lower (2.3%) than that of placebo (3.7%). First-dose hypotension is uncommon, perhaps due to the slower onset of action of the drug, and cough does not appear to be a significant problem.
A number of areas concerning the safety and efficacy of losartan potassium remain to be clarified. In particular, long term tolerability studies are needed; cough only became apparent as an adverse effect of ACE inhibitors after 3 to 4 years of use. Postmarketing surveillance has shown that angioedema, a rare but life-threatening adverse effect of ACE inhibitors, also occurs with losartan potassium. Further data are needed on the use of losartan potassium in patients with renal impairment before accepting the recommendation that dosage adjustment is not necessary. The pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of losartan potassium in patients with hepatic disease also require further investigation.
Losartan potassium increases uric acid secretion and lowers plasma uric acid levels, which may be of benefit when losartan potassium is combined with a thiazide diuretic, but which may otherwise lead to uric acid stone formation and possibly to nephropathy.
Simple control of blood pressure is no longer an adequate goal in the management of hypertension. Any new antihypertensive agent should also reduce cardiovascular events, prevent or cause regression of end-organ damage such as left ventricular hypertrophy, atherosclerosis and renal failure, and should not impair quality of life. Such data on losartan potassium are not currently available.
Losartan potassium is likely to be used in patients who are intolerant of ACE inhibitors, but its future in the management of hypertension will depend on long term tolerability studies and data on its effects beyond simple blood pressure control.