Purpose: Congestive heart failure is an important cause of patient morbidity and mortality. Although several randomized clinical trials have compared beta-blockers with placebo for treatment of congestive heart failure, a meta-analysis quantifying the effect on mortality and morbidity has not been performed recently.
Data sources: The MEDLINE, Cochrane, and Web of Science electronic databases were searched from 1966 to July 2000. References were also identified from bibliographies of pertinent articles.
Study selection: All randomized clinical trials of beta-blockers versus placebo in chronic stable congestive heart failure were included.
Data extraction: A specified protocol was followed to extract data on patient characteristics, beta-blocker used, overall mortality, hospitalizations for congestive heart failure, and study quality.
Data synthesis: A hierarchical random-effects model was used to synthesize the results. A total of 22 trials involving 10 135 patients were identified. There were 624 deaths among 4862 patients randomly assigned to placebo and 444 deaths among 5273 patients assigned to beta-blocker therapy. In these groups, 754 and 540 patients, respectively, required hospitalization for congestive heart failure. The probability that beta-blocker therapy reduced total mortality and hospitalizations for congestive heart failure was almost 100%. The best estimates of these advantages are 3.8 lives saved and 4 fewer hospitalizations per 100 patients treated in the first year after therapy. The probability that these benefits are clinically significant (>2 lives saved or >2 fewer hospitalizations per 100 patients treated) is 99%. Both selective and nonselective agents produced these salutary effects. The results are robust to any reasonable publication bias.
Conclusions: beta-Blocker therapy is associated with clinically meaningful reductions in mortality and morbidity in patients with stable congestive heart failure and should be routinely offered to all patients similar to those included in trials.