Amsterdam, The Netherlands A new heart drug has proven effective in treating people with severe heart failure, reducing deaths by 35 percent, research shows.
The drug, carvedilol, belongs to a relatively new class of medications called beta blockers, which lighten the heart's workload. It already had proven effective in prolonging the lives of people with mild to moderate stages of the disease, but doctors had been reluctant to give it to severe heart failure patients.
Experts say the findings, presented Tuesday at a conference of the European Society of Cardiology, should allay long-standing concerns that beta blockers could make heart failure worse because they depress the heart rate.
"Until recently, most of the trials that had been conducted with beta blockers were in patients who had mild to moderate disease. There was a lot of fear that these drugs would not work in patients with advanced disease," said the study's leader, Dr. Milton Packer, professor of medicine and director of the Heart Failure Center at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York.
Dr. John McMurray, a cardiology professor at Glasgow University in Scotland who was not connected with the research, said the findings provide "absolute, definite" proof that beta blockers are not only safe for people with severe heart failure but that they can prolong their lives.
Unlike a heart attack, heart failure is a progressive condition in which the heart muscle becomes weakened after it is injured by something like a heart attack or high blood pressure. The heart gradually loses its ability to pump blood around the body, and in the last stage of the disease patients need a machine to help them do the heart's work.
Worldwide, about 1.7 percent of adults have heart failure. Beyond the age of 65, between 6 percent and 10 percent are living with it. About 5 million Americans have it, and 250,000 of them die from it every year.