ROME (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS) – Beta-blocker therapy reduces the risks of all-cause mortality as well as cardiac death in patients with a left ventricular ejection fraction below 35% who get an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator for primary prevention, Laurent Fauchier, MD, PhD, reported at the annual congress of the European Society of Cardiology.

Some physicians have recently urged reconsideration of current guidelines recommending routine use of beta-blockers for prevention of cardiovascular events in certain groups of patients with coronary artery disease, including those with chronic heart failure who have received an ICD for primary prevention of sudden death. And indeed it’s true that the now–relatively old randomized trials of ICDs for primary prevention in patients with chronic heart failure don’t provide any real evidence that beta-blockers reduce mortality in this setting. In fact, the guideline recommendation for beta-blockade has been based upon expert opinion. This was the impetus for Dr. Fauchier and coinvestigators to conduct a large retrospective observational study in a contemporary cohort of heart failure patients who received an ICD for primary prevention during a recent 10-year period at the 12 largest centers in France.

Fifteen percent of the 3,975 French ICD recipients did not receive a beta-blocker. They differed from those who did in that they were on average 2 years older, had an absolute 5% lower ejection fraction, and were more likely to also receive cardiac resynchronization therapy. Propensity score matching based on these and 19 other baseline characteristics enabled investigators to assemble a cohort of 541 closely matched patient pairs, explained Dr. Fauchier, professor of cardiology at Francois Rabelais University in Tours, France.

During a mean follow-up of 3.2 years, the risk of all-cause mortality in ICD recipients not on a beta-blocker was 34% higher than in those who were. Moreover, their risk of cardiac death was 50% greater.

In contrast, beta-blocker therapy had no effect on the risks of sudden death or of appropriate or inappropriate shocks.

The finding that beta-blocker therapy doesn’t prevent sudden death in patients with an ICD for primary prevention has not previously been reported. However, it makes sense. The device prevents such events so effectively that a beta-blocker adds nothing further in that regard, according to Dr. Fauchier.

“Beta-blockers should continue to be used widely, as currently recommended, for heart failure in the specific setting of patients with prophylactic ICD implantation. You do not have the benefit for prevention of sudden death, but you still have all the benefit from preventing cardiac death,” the electrophysiologist concluded.

This study was supported by French governmental research grants. Dr. Fauchier reported serving as a consultant to Bayer, Pfizer, Boehringer Ingelheim, Medtronic, and Novartis.