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Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: Beta-blockers may help

May 24, 2010 |  1:00 pm

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is rapidly becoming a leading cause of death in the United States. Experts project that in 10 years, COPD will be the third-leading cause of death in the Western world. COPD includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema and is often linked to smoking. People with COPD are at greater risk of heart disease, too.

A study published Monday, however, suggests that beta-blockers -- medications used to treat high blood pressure and heart rhythm disorders -- reduce respiratory infections and improve survival in people with COPD. In a study of 2,230 COPD patients followed for an average of 7.2 years, the patient who took a beta-blocker had lower deaths rates (27.2% compared with 32.3%) than other COPD patients and fewer serious flare-ups.

The study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, is the first to suggest that long-term use of beta-blockers may improve survival in COPD. Doctors may hesitate to use beta-blockers for COPD patients, however, because they fear the medications will provoke respiratory problems, according to an editorial accompanying the study. The new study is promising, but a randomized, controlled trial should be performed to confirm the strategy, an editorial accompanying the study states. Until then, "the data ... provides a rationale for the practicing physician to use beta-blockers cautiously in their patients with COPD who also have a co-existing cardiovascular condition for which a beta-blocker is required," the author wrote.

-- Shari Roan