Purpose: Randomized trials have shown that beta-blockers prevent morbidity and mortality in heart failure. However, whether beta-blockers are effective in older patients or those with conditions that would have led to their exclusion from these trials remains unclear.
Subjects and methods: The associations between beta-blocker use and outcomes were examined in a population-based cohort of 11,942 older (age >/=65 years) patients with incident heart failure between 1994 and 1999. Cox proportional hazards models were used to adjust for propensity scores, age, sex, comorbid conditions, and other medications.
Results: The mean (+/- SD) age of the patients was 79 +/- 8 years, 5819 (49%) were men, and 2569 (22%) had Charlson comorbidity scores of at least 2. During follow-up (median, 21 months), 3539 patients were hospitalized for heart failure and 6757 died. Overall, 1162 patients received beta-blockers. After adjustment, beta-blocker use was associated with substantial reductions in all-cause mortality (hazard ratio [HR] = 0.72; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.65 to 0.80), mortality due to heart failure (HR = 0.65; 95% CI: 0.47 to 0.90), and hospitalizations for heart failure (HR = 0.82; 95% CI: 0.74 to 0.92). These endpoints were less frequent in patients treated with beta-blockers than in untreated patients in all examined subgroups. All doses of beta-blockers were associated with benefit, but there was a trend towards greater benefit in patients prescribed higher doses.
Conclusions: The benefits of beta-blockers seen in randomized trials extend to older patients and to those with conditions that would have led to their exclusion from the trials. There is a need for a randomized trial comparing different doses of beta-blockers in heart failure.