Medical records analysis finds new treatments in drug combos

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An analysis of medical records has shed light on the potential for certain drug combinations.

A study led by researchers from the Regenstrief Institute and Indiana University has found that a drug commonly prescribed to conserve potassium in the blood also significantly lowers blood pressure when taken in conjunction with a diuretic frequently prescribed to patients with hypertension. The combination of the two drugs, both available as generics, has been shown to consistently amplify blood pressure reduction in patients with or without the presence of other antihypertensive agents such as ACE inhibitors and calcium channel blockers.

Researchers used de-identified information from the EMRs of 17,291 hypertensive patients prescribed the drug hydrochlorothiazide with or without triamterene between 2004 and 2012, demonstrating triamterene's ability to enhance the blood pressure-lowering effect of hydrochlorothiazide, a commonly prescribed diuretic.

The insight offered by this kind of research doesn't occur through traditional clinical trials, "This study is a perfect example of how we can learn about the previously unknown therapeutic effects of drugs from big data. In this case, big electronic medical record data are being used to answer questions that may otherwise be unanswerable," said Wanzhu Tu, PhD, first author of the new study published online ahead of print in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, in a prepared statement.

"It is unlikely that a large clinical trial would be conducted to reexamine the blood pressure effect of triamterene, a drug that has been on the market since 1965,” he said. “Yet smaller clinical trials simply do not provide sufficient power to determine the drug's effect. Observational studies based on big data, like ours, provide a viable alternative."