Patients urged not to stop beta-blockers

A Nelson cardiologist says that patients should not stop taking beta-blockers, despite a United States study questioning the effectiveness of the drug.

A paper published in The Journal of the American Medical Association found beta-blockers did not prolong the lives of heart patients or reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke.

Researchers at New York University followed 44,700 heart patients over three years and found that people taking beta-blockers were no less likely to die from heart attack or stroke or be treated in hospital as a result of heart disease.

Nelson cardiologist Nick Fisher said he did not think people should be concerned at all.

Dr Fisher said that nobody should stop taking beta-blockers without having talked to a doctor or their cardiologist.

"As we go forward, we're constantly learning about what the best medicine is," Dr Fisher said. "With beta-blockers, which are excellent drugs, there are many scenarios where they work very well and there are new scenarios where they work better than we thought they did, but there are some cases where they are not as useful as previously thought and in many respects that reflects the success of modern-day medicine."

In most situations, doctors would tell patients to keep taking beta-blockers, he said. There might be a few scenarios where they would say, "Yes, we probably could change your medication or look at taking you off it", but that was not most cases, he said.

"Beta-blockers are excellent drugs and have a major role in cardiology."

Beta-blockers can be prescribed to patients with heart disease and high blood pressure.

The drug can also be used to prevent migraines and relieve the symptoms of anxiety.

Dr Fisher said not all beta-blockers were the same and doctors were beginning to use more modern forms of the drug, he said.

"Areas in which they are used are changing and we keep reviewing that with patients to make sure they are receiving the latest evidence-based medicine [and] the latest evidence medicine changes, otherwise we would never progress in medicine."

In the year to June, Pharmac funded $18.5 million worth of beta-blocker prescriptions nationwide.

Pharmac's medical director, Peter Moodie, said the US research provided important data, but some of its findings had been anticipated by doctors.