Drug to Protect Surgery Patients Causes Strokes

Monday, November 17, 2008 by: Sherry Baker, Health Sciences Editor
Tags: strokes, health news, Natural News

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(NaturalNews) Beta-blockers, also called beta-adrenergic blocking agents, comprise a class of drugs used to treat high blood pressure, heart rhythm disorders and migraines. By blocking the effects of the hormone adrenaline in the body, they slow the heart beat and lower blood pressure. So doctors have routinely prescribed these medications to people undergoing non-cardiac surgeries, reasoning the drugs would protect the cardiovascular system during the stress of an operation. But new research published in the Lancet medical journal and available on-line ( concludes using beta-blockers in this way isn't a great health-protecting strategy for surgery patients. In fact, the opposite may be true: the study shows they are associated with an increased risk of stroke and other potentially serious medical problems.

Dr Sripal Bangalore of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and Professor Franz Messerli of St Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital and Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York, headed a meta-analysis of 33 beta-blocker studies involving 12,306 surgical patients. They found the drugs were not associated with any significant reduction in the risk of all-cause mortality, cardiovascular mortality, or heart failure. In a statement released to the media, the researchers pointed out that beta-blockers did reduce the risk of non-fatal heart attack by 35% and reduced the risk of less serious heart blood vessel blockage by 64%. However, the significance of these reductions pale when faced with the fact the drugs doubled the risk for stroke.

The study found one out of every 293 patients given beta -blockers suffered a non-fatal stroke. What's more, one in 22 patients developed such a slow heart rate (bradycardia) medical treatment was needed. Likewise, one in 17 suffered from blood pressure so low that medical treatment was called for. "The beneficial effects [of beta-blockers] were driven mainly by trials with a high risk of bias," the researchers said in the press statement. "Beta-blockers should not be routinely used for perioperative treatment of patients undergoing non-cardiac surgery unless patients are already taking them for clinically indicated reasons."

The scientists have called on the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association guideline committee to change their stance recommending beta-blockers during surgery (a practice known as perioperative beta-blocker blockade) unless and until researchers can find definitive evidence this is a benefit to patients.

Some of the most widely prescribed beta-blockers include atenolol (Tenormin), metoprolol (Lopressor, Toprol-XL) and propranolol (Inderal, Inderal LA) . Even when prescribed properly, the drugs can cause a host of side effects in some people including fatigue, cold hands, dizziness, weakness, shortness of breath, insomnia, loss of sex drive and slow heartbeat. Beta blockers can also affect blood fat levels, causing triglycerides to rise and high-density lipoprotein, known as the "good" cholesterol, to decrease. No one taking beta-blockers should stop taking them " cold turkey -- abruptly stopping these drugs in known to increase the risk of heart attack and other heart problems.

About the author

Sherry Baker is a widely published writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Health, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Yoga Journal, Optometry, Atlanta, Arthritis Today, Natural Healing Newsletter, OMNI, UCLA’s "Healthy Years" newsletter, Mount Sinai School of Medicine’s "Focus on Health Aging" newsletter, the Cleveland Clinic’s "Men’s Health Advisor" newsletter and many others.

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