When people have heart attacks, they are commonly prescribed beta blockers, statins and angiotensin-converting-enzyme (ACE) inhibitors for the rest of their lives to prevent further attacks taking place.
However, new research has discovered that beta blockers may not be necessary after all and that the other two medications could work perfectly well as a preventative measure on their own.
The study was carried out at the University of North Carolina in the US. It involved more than 90,000 patients aged 65 or above who had suffered a heart attack and been prescribed a beta blocker, ACE inhibitor statin after being discharged from hospital.
The patients were studied for a year and also verified for how well they adhered to their prescription drug regimen to ensure the results were reliable.
It was found that when patients took all three drugs as prescribed, the mortality rate after the study period was 9.3 per cent. However, when people took ACE inhibitors and statins but no beta blockers, the mortality rate was 9.1 per cent.
This was a statistically insignificant difference and challenges the current clinical guidelines that all three drugs are a necessary precautionary measure. Indeed, the beta blockers offered no additional benefits as long as patients took the other drugs as prescribed and patients were no more likely to die than they would be if they took all three.
When patients did not take any of the medication they were prescribed, the mortality rate was 14.3 per cent.
Writing in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, lead study author Gang Fang stressed that heart attack survivors should not simply stop taking their prescription beta blockers without consulting their doctor.
"We are not saying that beta blockers have no value. It's just that their benefits appear to have been eclipsed by the duo of ACE inhibitors and statins, which are relatively newer drugs," he added.
Beta blockers work by blocking the action of hormones like adrenaline, making the heart beat more slowly and with less force. They are currently used to treat a variety of conditions, including angina, high blood pressure and heart failure.
Someone has a heart attack in the UK every seven minutes and a million men and almost 500,000 women are living with the after-effects of cardiac arrest.