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J Emerg Med. 2011 Feb;40(2):135-45. doi: 10.1016/j.jemermed.2007.11.056. Epub 2008 Jun 24.

Should acute treatment with inhaled beta agonists be withheld from patients with dyspnea who may have heart failure?

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  • 1Department of Emergency Medicine, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, Oregon, USA.


In patients with dyspnea, prehospital and emergency providers make therapeutic decisions before a diagnosis is established. Inhaled beta-2 agonists are frontline treatment for patients with dyspnea due to asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) exacerbations. However, these agents have been associated with increased adverse events when administered chronically to heart failure patients. Our goal was to determine the safety and efficacy of acute administration of inhaled beta-2 agonists to patients with heart failure. MEDLINE and EMBASE searches were performed using the terms "beta agonists," "albuterol," "congestive heart failure," and "pulmonary edema." Bibliographies of relevant articles were searched. Only studies addressing acute effects of beta-2 agonists were included for analysis. Twenty-four studies comprising 434 patients were identified that addressed the acute delivery of beta-2 agonists in subjects with heart failure--five studies with inhaled administration and 19 with systemic administration. No study directly evaluated the effects of inhaled beta-2 agonists to patients with acutely decompensated heart failure. Treatment of heart failure patients with beta-2 agonists resulted in transient improvements in pulmonary function and cardiovascular hemodynamics. Only one investigation reported an association between beta-2 agonist use and an increase in malignant dysrhythmias. Investigations in animal models of heart failure and acute lung injury demonstrated resolution of pulmonary edema with beta agonist administration. There is insufficient evidence to suggest that acute treatment with inhaled beta-2 agonists should be avoided in patients with dyspnea who may have heart failure. Based on small studies and indirect evidence, administration of beta-2 agonists to patients with heart failure seems to improve pulmonary function, cardiovascular hemodynamics, and resorption of pulmonary edema. Although an increase in adverse effects with the use of beta-2 agonists cannot be ruled out based on these data, there was no evidence of an increase in clinically significant dysrhythmias, especially when administered by inhalation. Based on these findings, further study should focus on the clinical outcomes of patients with acutely decompensated heart failure who are treated with inhaled beta-2 agonist therapy.

Copyright © 2011. Published by Elsevier Inc.

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