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Common Heart Drug Questioned

Study: Beta Blockers May Be Overused

Who Needs Beta-Blockers, and for How Long?

Heart attack patients have one major question about beta-blockers.

"The most common question I get is, 'How long do I have to stay on the beta-blockers, doc?'" Friedman says. "We say, likely indefinitely, because you improve heart [function]."

Friedman notes that people differ widely in their response to beta-blockers. Zoghbi says doctors who prescribe beta-blockers must pay close attention to a patient's condition.

"The important thing is to make sure we control blood pressure," Zoghbi says.

Beta-blockers have major side effects, which can include diarrhea, stomach cramps, fatigue, depression, nightmares, and sexual dysfunction. A 2006 study found that one year after having a heart attack, only 45% of patients were still taking their beta-blockers.

"This is really where a discussion between a patient and the health care team is crucial," Zoghbi says. "Compliance is a significant issue. If patients are not tolerating a medication, we have to think of alternatives to control symptoms or decrease risk.”

The Bangalore study appears in the Oct. 3 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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