Common heart drug questioned
Research examines beta-blocker benefits
3rd October 2012 - A new study suggests many patients may not benefit from beta-blockers, one of the most commonly prescribed medications for heart disease.
The research from Chicago, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, shows beta-blockers are not associated with a lower risk of heart attacks or stroke among patients with only coronary artery disease risk factors, or those who have had a prior heart attack, or those with coronary artery disease without a prior heart attack.
Beta-blockers work by slowing down the heart and stopping it beating too quickly and too forcefully. This reduces the amount of work the heart has to do and also increases the amount of blood it is able to pump with each beat.
They're life savers for people with heart failure and others with fragile hearts badly damaged by heart attacks. However, they're also given to people whose hearts aren't so fragile, including:
- People at high risk of heart disease
- People with partially blocked arteries (coronary artery disease, or CAD) but who have not had a heart attack
- Heart attack survivors
Dr Sripal Bangalore, who led the research, told us:"In all these three subgroups of patients, there is no benefit of using beta-blockers." He says recommendations for beta-blockers are mostly based on data collected two decades ago. Since then, treatment of heart attack and CAD patients has greatly improved.
Amy Thompson, Senior Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation, says in a press statement: "Beta-blockers are commonly prescribed in the UK to treat a range of conditions, including high blood pressure and heart failure. This study refines our understanding of who does, and who does not, benefit from taking a beta-blocker."
Dr Bangalore and an international team of researchers looked at data from more than 44,000 people who were either at high risk of coronary heart disease, had coronary heart disease, or had suffered a heart attack some time ago.
They followed up patients and looked at whether patients given beta-blockers were less likely to die of heart disease or to suffer a heart attack or stroke. They weren't.
They found beta-blocker use was not associated with a lower number of heart attacks and strokes across these groups.
"We have shown in our study that if you have a heart attack and take beta-blockers for a year, you probably will benefit," Dr Bangalore says. "But the question is, how long after a heart attack would beta-blockers offer a benefit? The European Union says use these drugs long-term only in patients with heart failure."
Senior Cardiac Nurse, Amy Thompson, says:"In this country, the current recommendations are that everyone who has an acute heart attack should be offered a beta-blocker, as they have been proven to reduce the risk of a further heart attack and death. However, these guidelines are under constant review and the results of this study are likely to be considered when they are next updated.
"If you take a beta-blocker, don’t stop taking it as this could worsen your symptoms. If you have any concerns about your medication, it’s best to talk it over with your GP first."