Beta Blocker Side Effects May Increase Risk of Hospitalization for Individuals With “Stiff Heart” Syndrome: Study

The side effects of Lopressor, Normodyne and other beta blockers, which are commonly used to treat certain heart conditions, may increase the risk of heart failure for some patients, according to the findings of new research.

In a study published this month in the medical journal JAMA Network Open, researchers with the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont indicate that use of beta blockers was associated with increased hospitalization risk for patients with a condition known as “stiff heart”, which accounts for about half the cases of heart failure in the U.S.

Stiff Heart is the name given for patients with an ejection fraction (EF) of 50% or greater. Many individuals with the condition take beta blockers, even though it is not proven that the drug helps with the condition.

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Beta blockers are the most commonly used class of medication to treat cardiac conditions during pregnancy, which are often used to manage arrhythmias and prevent a second heart attack after a first. Beta blockers are also commonly used during pregnancy to treat hypertension, or high blood pressure. They include drugs like Lopressor, Normodyne, Tenormin, and InnoPran XL.

In this latest study, researchers conducted a double-blinded clinical trial involving the diuretic Aldactone which included 1,761 patients, about 90% of whom had a Stiff Heart diagnosis. However, it was discovered that nearly 80% were also using beta blockers.

According to the findings, use of beta blockers was linked to a nearly 75% higher risk of hospitalization for heart failure if the patients had a Stiff Heart diagnosis. However, their use was not linked with an increased risk of cardiovascular death. In addition, heart failure patients with an EF between 45% and 49% saw a decreased risk of hospitalization.

“A big problem with ‘stiff heart’ heart failure is that we don’t have effective medical therapies,” Dr. Timothy Plante, lead study author and an assistant professor of medicine at the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont, said in a press release. “So, instead, we use the same medications that work for ‘weak heart’ heart failure. Because beta-blockers save lives in ‘weak heart’ heart failure, we assume they are also effective in ‘stiff heart’ heart failure patients—this assumption may be wrong.”

A study in 2012 also raised questions about the effectiveness of beta blockers, when researchers found that, statistically, the drugs appeared to do nothing to lower the rate of heart attack, death by cardiac arrest or stroke.


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