Magazine article Science News

Beta-Blockade Guards Burn Victims' Muscle

Magazine article Science News

Beta-Blockade Guards Burn Victims' Muscle

Article excerpt

A medication that reduces the risk of heart attack also can diminish a muscle-wasting metabolic response common among victims of severe trauma or illness, researchers have discovered by studying young burn patients.

In the aftermath of injuries or burns of during serious illnesses, victims typically exhibit higher metabolism, rapid protein breakdown, and difficulty making new muscle tissue. Even with plenty of nutrition, severely injured or ill patients can suffer metabolic breakdown of muscle mass, or muscle catabolism. During pro-longed recoveries, patients can catabolize up to one-tenth of their muscle mass despite putting on weight.

Drugs known as beta-blockers are widely used to regulate heart rate and blood pressure in patients with heart conditions. The drugs inhibit the function of hormones such as epinephrine and other so-called catecholamines, already known to playa major role in posttraumatic hypermetabolism.

Because these drugs lower metabolism, researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston suspected that beta-blockers might help burn patients avoid muscle loss. To find out, the team studied 25 children under the age of 16 who were treated at the Shriners Hospitals for Children, also in Galveston, for severe burns covering at least 40 percent of their bodies.

The researchers administered propranolol, a generic beta-blocker, to 13 patients beginning on the fifth day after each subject's first surgical treatment for burns. They adjusted the drug's dose to depress resting heart rates by 20 percent below the patients' premedication pulse. …

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