Background: Beta-blockers are widely used for many cardiovascular conditions; however, their efficacy in contemporary clinical practice remains uncertain.
Methods: We performed a prospectively designed, umbrella review of meta-analyses of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) investigating the evidence of beta-blockers in the contemporary management of coronary artery disease (CAD), heart failure (HF), patients undergoing surgery or hypertension (registration: PROSPERO CRD42016038375). We searched MEDLINE, EMBASE and the Cochrane Library from inception until December 2018. Outcomes were analysed as beta-blockers versus control for all-cause mortality, myocardial infarction (MI), incident HF or stroke. Two independent investigators abstracted the data, assessed the quality of the evidence and rated the certainty of evidence.
Results: We identified 98 meta-analyses, including 284 unique RCTs and 1,617,523 patient-years of follow-up. In CAD, 12 meta-analyses (93 RCTs, 103,481 patients) showed that beta-blockers reduced mortality in analyses before routine reperfusion, but there was a lack of benefit in contemporary studies where ≥ 50% of patients received thrombolytics or intervention. Beta-blockers reduced incident MI at the expense of increased HF. In HF with reduced ejection fraction, 34 meta-analyses (66 RCTs, 35,383 patients) demonstrated a reduction in mortality and HF hospitalisation with beta-blockers in sinus rhythm, but not in atrial fibrillation. In patients undergoing surgery, 23 meta-analyses (89 RCTs, 19,211 patients) showed no effect of beta-blockers on mortality for cardiac surgery, but increased mortality in non-cardiac surgery. In non-cardiac surgery, beta-blockers reduced MI after surgery but increased the risk of stroke. In hypertension, 27 meta-analyses (36 RCTs, 260,549 patients) identified no benefit versus placebo, but beta-blockers were inferior to other agents for preventing mortality and stroke.
Conclusions: Beta-blockers substantially reduce mortality in HF patients in sinus rhythm, but for other conditions, clinicians need to weigh up both benefit and potential risk.
Keywords: Coronary artery disease; Heart failure; Hypertension; Meta-analysis; Mortality; Myocardial infarction; Perioperative; Stroke; Systematic review.