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Heart Drugs Safe for Lungs, Study Finds
Date:5/24/2010

Fears about beta blockers making COPD worse are unfounded, experts say

MONDAY, May 24 (HealthDay News) -- Medical tradition says that the beta blockers used to treat heart disease shouldn't be given to people who also have severe lung disease, but a new Dutch study suggests the tradition is wrong.

A study of more than 2,200 people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a diagnosis that includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis, found better survival among those given beta blockers than those who did not get the drugs, claims a report in the May 24 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine by physicians at University Medical Center Utrecht.

"To our knowledge, this is the first observational study that shows that long-term treatment with beta blockers may improve survival and reduce the risk of exacerbation of COPD in the broad spectrum of patients with a diagnosis of COPD," the researchers wrote.

"This is strikingly different from what our medical students are taught today," said Dr. Don D. Sin, a professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, and co-author of an accompanying editorial. "Our traditional teachings are wrong."

The rap against beta blockers has been that while they improve heart function, they can cause airways to contract, a problem for people with COPD, Sin explained. "They demonstrate in this article that even people with COPD who use beta blockers did very well, better than people who didn't use beta blockers," he said.

Fears about beta blockers and COPD date back to the 1980s, when there were reports of "some nasty effects in patients with asthma, especially with high doses," said study author Dr. Frans H. Rutten, an assistant professor of medicine at Utrecht. The study demonstrates that the drugs can be handled safely for people with COPD, he noted.

"I know of no real problems now, especially when you start with
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