Common heart drugs may be less helpful than thought
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The cheap and popular heart drugs known as beta-blockers may be overused in many patients, exposing them needlessly to bothersome side effects, a new study suggests.
Researchers found that people with stable heart disease who took beta-blockers were no less likely to die from their condition, or to suffer a heart attack or stroke, than were those not on the medications.
Although the study is not conclusive, it "is definitely going to make some waves," said Dr. Lydia Bazzano of Tulane University in New Orleans, who studies heart disease prevention, but wasn't part of the new work.
"I think there are probably plenty of people out there who are getting (beta-blockers), but don't need them," Bazzano told Reuters Health.
Beta-blockers such as atenolol and metoprolol slow the heartbeat and lower blood pressure.
They are known to shield against future heart attacks in people who just had one and can be helpful in certain types of heart failure. Older studies have suggested staying on beta-blockers in the long run may be beneficial, so many doctors have their patients take the drugs indefinitely.
But those results predate modern treatment, researchers say. And whether or not beta-blockers can ward off heart attacks in the first place is still up in the air.
Because beta-blockers are now off patent, drug companies have little incentive to study their effects in expensive clinical trials - the gold-standard in medical science for demonstrating what a treatment does and does not do.
So Dr Sripal Bangalore of the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York and colleagues did the next-best thing. They used data from a registry of nearly 45,000 people with established coronary artery disease or risk factors for heart disease to get a sense of the drugs' efficacy.
In coronary artery disease, or CAD, the blood vessels supplying the heart are partially clogged by cholesterol build-ups, which can lead to heart attacks.
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