Life-saving properties of beta blockers extend to more patients

DALLAS, Oct. 29 Beta blocker drugs have now been shown to lengthen the lives of people at risk of sudden death due to irregular heart beats, according to a study published in today's rapid access issue of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

The protective mechanism of beta blockers is unclear, says lead author Kristin E. Ellison, M.D., of Brown Medical School in Providence, R.I. It is likely due to the combined effects of beta blockers improving blood flow and reducing blood pressure, heart rate, and rhythm disturbances.

Sudden cardiac death occurs when the heart stops abruptly (cardiac arrest). It kills about 250,000 American lives every year, according to the American Heart Association. Most cardiac arrests that lead to sudden death occur when the electrical impulses in a diseased heart become rapid, called ventricular tachycardia, or chaotic, called ventricular fibrillation.

Beta blockers have been shown to reduce the risk of death by 25 percent to 40 percent in patients who've had a recent heart attack and to reduce sudden cardiac death up to 50 percent in patients with a recent heart attack, researchers say. However, until now, it hadn't been known if beta blockers have a similar positive effect on patients three or more years after a heart attack or in a group at high risk for sudden death due to heart rhythm disturbances.

Ellison and colleagues from the Multicenter UnSustained Tachycardia Trial (MUSTT) analyzed data from this prospective, randomized, controlled trial to evaluate the impact of beta blockers on the overall death rate and on death from an arrhythmia (abnormal heartbeat) or the need for resuscitation from cardiac arrest.

MUSTT was designed to test the effectiveness of electrophysiologic (EP) studies invasive procedures used to record electrical activity from the heart or to administer medications while monitoring their effects. EP studies can test how well antiarrhythmic t

Contact: Carole Bullock
American Heart Association

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