How has this extraordinary situation arisen? It’s everything to do with expectations and profits, and almost nothing to do with patient care - in fact, it’s simply how the drug industry drives medicine, and produces results for its shareholders.
Sadly, while shareholders have profited, people with high blood pressure have been paying with their lives. The UK’s drugs regulators, who have finally intervened after a decade of silence, admit that tens of thousands of people with nothing more than high blood pressure have died as a direct result of taking a beta-blocker.
Beta-blockers were originally designed for patients with heart disease, but so great was the PR and spin that came with them that they were quickly considered the next best thing for the much, much larger market of hypertension patients, representing one of the most common health conditions in the West, and one that is easily remedied without drugs.
Indeed, the hype overtook the science, with the drugs’ advocates claiming that they were more effective at treating high blood pressure than even the drugs specifically designed to treat hypertension, such as the ACE inhibitors and the calcium-channel blockers.
Sadly, the truth is that beta-blockers are considerably less successful at treating hypertension - and are considerably more dangerous.
The drugs regulators now admit that beta-blockers reduce the risk of stroke by 19 per cent compared with the 38 per cent effectiveness of ACE inhibitors. They are also killing 3 per cent more people than the antihypertensives do (which, it should be said, are doing their fair share of killing, too).
As a result, thousands of people have died - who might otherwise have lived had they been put on a standard antihypertensive agent.