Beta blockers help only HALF of heart attack patients, landmark trial finds

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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Heart attack patients are needlessly taking beta blockers even though they provide no clear benefits, a landmark trial has concluded.

The daily tablets, which can trigger fatigue, nausea and even sexual dysfunction, are offered to the majority of patients who suffer a heart attack.

Around 60,000 people are prescribed beta blockers every year in the UK and many will remain on the pills for life.

But a trial has found that, for about half of patients, they do not reduce the risk of death or further heart attacks.

Beta blockers have remained a standard treatment offered to NHS heart attack patients (stock image)

Around 60,000 people are prescribed beta blockers every year in the UK and many will remain on the pills for life (stock image)

Around 60,000 people are prescribed beta blockers every year in the UK and many will remain on the pills for life (stock image) 

Experts say the findings will change the way heart attack patients are treated on the NHS, freeing tens of thousands from uncomfortable side effects.

Dr Malcolm Finlay, consultant cardiologist at Barts Heart Centre in London, said: ‘Beta blockers are still a standard treatment for just about everyone who has a heart attack on the NHS.

‘If we could safely take patients off them, thousands would avoid the side effects.’

When beta blockers were first administered in the 1960s they were viewed as one of the most effective ways of ensuring patients did not suffer another attack.

The tablets block the effects of hormones such as adrenaline, which are known to increase heart rate and blood pressure. This reduces the workload on the heart, helping the organ recover after the stress of an attack.

However, in the past three decades, more effective heart attack treatments have arrived, including a coronary angioplasty – which involves surgically inserting a balloon into the blocked artery to reopen it. Typically, this is followed by the insertion of a stent – a small mesh tube that holds the artery open.

Despite these advances, beta blockers have remained a standard treatment offered to NHS heart attack patients.

The game-changing findings that the pills are ineffective for many were announced at the American College of Cardiology in Atlanta, Georgia, yesterday. The trial of 5,000 recent heart attack patients across 45 countries concluded that the only patients who stand to benefit from beta blockers are those with heart failure, an incurable condition that causes the heart to stop pumping effectively.

However, only around 50 per cent of heart attack patients have this condition.

Dr Troels Yndigegn, interventional cardiologist at Lund University in Sweden and the study’s author, said: ‘For patients with no signs of heart failure, this trial establishes that there’s no indication that routine use of beta blockers is beneficial.’

Beta blockers are used to treat a number of other health conditions including angina – chest pain caused by the narrowing of the arteries supplying blood to the heart – and atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat.

There is no suggestion that the pills are ineffective treatments for these other heart conditions.

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