How strong is the evidence for use of beta-blockers as first-line therapy for hypertension? Systematic review and meta-analysis

Hazel A Bradley, Charles Shey Wiysonge, Jimmy A Volmink, Bongani M Mayosi, Lionel H Opie
Journal of Hypertension 2006, 24 (11): 2131-41

OBJECTIVE: To quantify the effect of first-line antihypertensive treatment with beta-blockers on mortality, morbidity and withdrawal rates, compared with the other main classes of antihypertensive agents.

METHODS: We identified eligible trials by searching the Cochrane Controlled Trials Register, Medline, Embase, reference lists of previous reviews, and contacting researchers. We extracted data independently in duplicate and conducted meta-analysis by analysing trial participants in groups to which they were randomized, regardless of subsequent treatment actually received.

RESULTS: Thirteen trials with 91,561 participants, meeting inclusion criteria, compared beta-blockers to placebo (four trials; n = 23,613), diuretics (five trials; n = 18,241), calcium-channel blockers (CCBs) (four trials; n = 44,825), and renin-angiotensin system (RAS) inhibitors, namely angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers (three trials; n = 10,828). Compared to placebo, beta-blockers reduced the risk of stroke (relative risk 0.80; 95% confidence interval 0.66-0.96) with a marginal fall in total cardiovascular events (0.88, 0.79-0.97), but did not affect all-cause mortality (0.99, 0.88-1.11), coronary heart disease (0.93, 0.81-1.07) or cardiovascular mortality (0.93, 0.80-1.09). The effect on stroke was less than that of CCBs (1.24, 1.11-1.40) and RAS inhibitors (1.30, 1.11-1.53), and that on total cardiovascular events less than that of CCBs (1.18, 1.08-1.29). In addition, patients on beta-blockers were more likely to discontinue treatment than those on diuretics (1.80; 1.33-2.42) or RAS inhibitors (1.41; 1.29-1.54).

CONCLUSION: Beta-blockers are inferior to CCBs and to RAS inhibitors for reducing several important hard end points. Compared with diuretics, they had similar outcomes, but were less well tolerated. Hence beta-blockers are generally suboptimal first-line antihypertensive drugs.

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