Do I need to be taking beta-blockers following a heart attack?

Beta-blockers are commonly prescribed to people following a heart attack, taking strain off the heart by helping it beat slower and with less force. They are necessary in individuals who have suffered a heart attack with heart failure, whereby the heart fails to work properly.

Current UK medical guidelines recommend that all patients who have suffered a heart attack should be prescribed beta-blockers for at least one year – with those having suffered heart failure taking the drugs indefinitely. Up until now it has been unclear whether those who have suffered just a heart attack, without heart failure, should be prescribed the drug.

Researchers from the University of Leeds examined the data from 179,810 people between 2007 and 2013 who were hospitalised with a heart attack but did not suffer heart failure – focussing on whether beta-blockers improved their life expectancy one year on.

Despite the fact that 95% of these patients received beta-blockers following their heart attack, no significant differences in survival were found between those prescribed the drug and those who weren’t.

This could mean that, not least, the side effects caused by beta-blockers, such as tiredness, dizziness and cold extremities, could be totally unnecessary. As well as the additional cost this will put on the healthcare services and those having to pay for their prescriptions.

Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Leeds, Chris Gale, commented: “There is uncertainty in the evidence as to the benefit of beta blockers for patients with heart attack and who do not have heart failure.

“This study suggests that there may be no mortality advantage associated with the prescription of beta blockers for patients with heart attack and no heart failure.”

It’s brilliant to see established protocol, such as the prescription of beta-blockers on the assumption that they improve well-being, being challenged and fine-tuned. We can only hope that further research identifies any other unnecessary or burdensome treatments, in the hope that they are discarded in favour of more suitable and efficient approaches.

Wishing you the best of health,

Dominic Rees
Editorial Health Researcher