Beta Blockers Fail to Lower Recurring Heart Attack Risks: Study

Researchers found little difference in the risk of death or future heart attacks between patients given beta blockers and those who were not.

According to a new study, the use of beta-blockers following heart attack does not appear to improve a patient’s risk of death or having another heart attack, contradicting earlier research conducted in an era before more modern biomarker-based diagnosis methods were common.

Beta-blockers are a class of drugs used to treat high blood pressure and chest pain to help improve survival after heart attacks. They work by relaxing the blood vessels and slowing the heart rate to decrease blood pressure, with the hope of improving heart health in the long run. Brand names of beta-blockers include Lopressor and Cardiocor.

The drugs have been the backbone of medical care for patients who recently suffered a heart attack, and beta-blockers are considered part of the standard of care for doctors based on years of prior research showing benefits for patients. However, findings published earlier this month in the The New England Journal of Medicine place that practice into question.

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Swedish researchers conducted a study in 45 medical centers in Sweden, Estonia, and New Zealand from 2017 to 2023, comparing the use of beta-blockers in 5,000 heart attack patients. Half of the group was given beta-blockers like Lopressor, and the other half was not prescribed beta-blockers.

The data indicates the risk of death was the same in both groups. There was no major difference or benefit to taking the beta-blockers, the researchers concluded.

Overall, 199 patients in the beta-blocker group suffered death from any cause, compared to 208 patients in the no-beta-blocker group. The researchers determined this represented no statistically significant difference.

Similarly, taking beta-blockers failed to decrease a patient’s risk of suffering a heart attack, being hospitalized for atrial fibrillation (abnormal heart rhythm), suffering heart failure, or death from cardiovascular causes, like heart attack or stroke, according to the data.

The researchers found the rates of hospitalization for slow heart rhythm, high blood pressure, and fainting were similar in both groups. Additionally, people in both groups needed to have pacemakers implanted at similar rates, 3.4% in the beta-blocker group and 3.2% in the no-beta-blocker group.

Research data also indicated patients in both groups were hospitalized for asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and stroke at similar rates.

The bottom line, according to researchers of the new study, is that giving patients beta-blockers after a heart attack does not improve other heart-related side effects, such as reducing the risk of heart attack or reducing their risk of death. They determined that the standard of care often used by most doctors may need to be revised given the study’s findings.

Beta Blocker Health Concerns

Prior research has linked the use of beta-blockers to an increased risk of sleep problems and unusual dreams.

In addition, beta-blocker use among patients with a condition known as “stiff heart,” occurring in about half of all cases of heart failure in the U.S., increases the risk of heart failure, according to a 2019 study published in JAMA Network Open.

Heart attacks can be silent with no symptoms, but they are often accompanied by chest pain, shortness of breath, pain in other areas of the body, like the arms and back, and nausea. Heart attacks are a leading cause of death in the United States, and 600,000 people experience their first heart attack each year, according to the American Heart Association.

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