Study focuses on effectiveness of beta-blockers

October 2, 2012 6:05:37 PM PDT
Beta blockers have been the standard care for treating and preventing heart attacks heart attacks for more than 30 years, but as modern medicine advances, the more widespread use of beta blockers has come into questions.

They are a class of drugs used to slow down a patient's heart rate or reduce blood pressure. This new study in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association looked at more than 44-thousand people over the course of 4 years and its findings were surprising.

Beta blockers are one of the first treatments given to heart attack patient when they get to the emergency room and they can be a life-saver.

"So after they pass this acute phases of a heart attack The real question has been, Is it beneficial to continue them on the long term basis. And if it is beneficial how long should we be continuing these medications," Dr. Sripal Bangalore said.

Dr. Bangalore, a cardiologist at the NYU School of Medicine, set out to answer those questions. He's also one of the authors of a study in this week's JAMA that looks at whether or not beta-blockers can prevent heart attacks and strokes, especially since studies have shown beta blockers can help people who are having a heart attack.

"They are beneficial in patients who are having a heart attack. They should be beneficial in patients who are having a heart attack and so what has happened down the line is people that have started using it in patients, who will not present it with heart attacks or patients who just have risk factors for heart disease," Bangalore said.

The study looked at three groups of people: Those with a prior history of heart attacks; those who never had a heart attack, but a history of coronary artery disease; and those who had risk factors for heart disease, such as those with diabetes, hypertension.

"So what we found was there was no benefit of being on the beta blocker in any of these three study groups," he said.

While the study found beta blockers didn't prevent future heart problems, they are still an effective drug. In addition to treating heart attacks, they are used to treat irregular heartbeats and heart failure.

"We know in patients with heart failure and we know that these medications actually prolong your life, prolongs survival. So these are great medications," he said.

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