Some Heart Attack Patients May Not Actually Benefit From Beta-Blockers

Current medical guidelines in the UK mean that if you have a heart attack, you will automatically be prescribed beta-blocker drugs on the NHS. 

However a new study from the University of Leeds is challenging this established practice as it found that the medication might not be beneficial to all heart attack patients.

This is after the team drew a distinction between patients who had a heart attack coupled with heart failure, and those who only had a heart attack.

Beta-blockers work to decrease the activity of the heart and lower blood pressure, which is essential in those who have had a heart attack and heart failure because they help muscle function to continue properly.

However, the study of 179,000 found that the likelihood of survival twelve months after, in those who didn’t suffer heart failure, was not affected by taking the medication.

When investigators compared death rates, they found no statistical difference between those who’d been prescribed the drugs and those who had not – yet around 95% of patients who fall into this category are given the medication.

Dr Marlous Hall, lead investigator, said: “If you look at the patients who had a heart attack but not heart failure ― there was no difference in survival rates between those who had been prescribed beta blockers and those that had not.” 

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Not only does this raise questions around avoiding unnecessary side effects for patients – they can cause dizziness and tiredness – but also around the cost of potential over prescription.

According to an NHS report, in 2015 the trust dispensed 35.9 million beta-blocker prescriptions, compared to 27.5 million in 2005, at a cost of £80.6 million.

Chris Gale, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine, said: “This study suggests that there may be no mortality advantage associated with the prescription of beta-blockers for patients with heart attack and no heart failure.

“A necessary next step is the investigation of beta-blockers in this population in a randomised controlled trial”.

The British Heart Foundation says there are around 950,000 people in the UK who have survived a heart attack.

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