Study questions common use of beta-blockers after minor heart attacks

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A significant new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine raises important questions about the routine use of beta-blocker medications following minor heart attacks.

Conducted across multiple countries including Sweden, Estonia, and New Zealand, the research suggests that these commonly prescribed drugs may not be necessary for half of the patients typically given them after such cardiac events.

Beta-blockers, such as metoprolol and bisoprolol, are frequently administered to patients when they leave the hospital after experiencing an acute heart attack. T

hese medications are intended to help manage heart rhythm, reduce blood pressure, and prevent future cardiac events. However, the new study led by Tomas Jernberg, a professor at Karolinska Institutet, indicates that many patients might not benefit from these drugs.

The research focused on more than 5,000 patients who had suffered a small heart attack and showed no significant loss of heart function afterward. These patients were randomly assigned to either receive beta-blockers or not upon their discharge from the hospital.

The follow-up, which lasted until November 2023, revealed a negligible difference in health outcomes between the two groups.

Specifically, 7.9% of those who received beta-blockers experienced death or another heart attack, compared to 8.3% of those who did not—a difference that researchers noted was not statistically significant.

Jernberg emphasized that while the instinct in modern medicine often leans towards adding more medications to a patient’s regimen, their findings suggest that a simpler approach could be equally effective, especially for patients who have had minor heart attacks.

This could lead to less complicated and cheaper treatment plans, reducing both financial and medicinal burden on patients.

However, Jernberg strongly cautioned against patients discontinuing their beta-blocker treatment without medical supervision.

He highlighted that the study’s findings only apply to new treatments following a minor heart attack and do not suggest that patients should stop taking beta-blockers if they are already on them, particularly if they were prescribed for a major heart attack or for other medical reasons.

The professor also warned about the risks associated with abruptly stopping beta-blocker therapy, which can include heart palpitations and other side effects.

Instead, any changes to medication should be made gradually and under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

The study has already gained attention and been cited in European cardiac care guidelines, indicating its potential to influence future treatment protocols significantly.

As the medical community continues to evaluate these findings, they could lead to updated guidelines that more precisely tailor cardiac care to the needs of individual patients, particularly those recovering from minor heart attacks.Top of FormBottom of Form

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The research findings can be found in New England Journal of Medicine.

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