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Combination therapy versus monotherapy in reducing blood pressure: meta-analysis on 11,000 participants from 42 trials

Wald DS, Law M, Morris JK, Bestwick JP, Wald NJ.
Am J Med 2009;122:290-300


OBJECTIVE: To quantify the incremental effect of combining blood pressure-lowering drugs from any 2 classes of thiazides, beta-blockers, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, and calcium channel blockers over 1 drug alone and to compare the effects of combining drugs with doubling dose. METHODS: Meta-analysis of factorial trials in which participants were randomly allocated to 1 drug alone, another drug alone, both drugs together, or a placebo. RESULTS: We identified 42 trials (10,968 participants). With a thiazide used alone, the mean placebo-subtracted reduction in systolic blood pressure was 7.3 mm Hg and 14.6 mm Hg combined with a drug from another class. The corresponding reductions were 9.3 mm Hg and 18.9 mm Hg with a beta-blocker, 6.8 mm Hg and 13.9 mm Hg with an angiotensin-converting enzyme, and 8.4 mm Hg and 14.3 mm Hg with a calcium channel blocker. The expected blood pressure reduction from 2 drugs together, assuming an additive effect, closely predicted the observed blood pressure reductions. The ratios of the observed to expected incremental blood pressure reductions from combining each class of drug with any other over that from 1 drug were, respectively, for thiazides, beta-blockers, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, and calcium channel blockers: 1.04 (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.88-1.20), 1.00 (95% CI, 0.76-1.24), 1.16 (95% CI, 0.93-1.39), and 0.89 (95% CI, 0.69-1.09); the overall average was 1.01 (95% CI, 0.90-1.12). Comparison of our results with those of a published meta-analysis of different doses of the same drug showed that doubling the dose of 1 drug had approximately one fifth of the equivalent incremental effect (0.22 [95% CI, 0.19-0.25]). CONCLUSION: Blood pressure reduction from combining drugs from these 4 classes can be predicted on the basis of additive effects. The extra blood pressure reduction from combining drugs from 2 different classes is approximately 5 times greater than doubling the dose of 1 drug.


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