Millions of elderly people taking high-blood pressure tablets – such as beta-blockers – may be doing themselves more harm than good because the pills increase the risk of fatal falls, scientists have warned.
Yale University has discovered that the risk of dying from a fall when taking the tablets rises by up to 40pc – similar to the risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke.
The majority of over-70s suffer from high blood pressure and nearly five million take medication for hypertension. But several recent studies have questioned whether the risks and side-effects of medication are outweighing the benefits.
Hypertension drugs lower blood pressure but can lead to side-effects which include dizziness, excessive tiredness and blurred vision.
"Older patients and their clinicians need to weigh the harms as well as the benefits in prescribing medications, particularly when the harms may be at least as serious as the diseases we hope the medications prevent," said the lead author, Professor Mary Tinetti of Yale School of Medicine.
"Patients may find themselves in the tough position of either choosing to continue their blood pressure medication and risk side-effects that could lead to life-altering falls, or discontinuing their medications and risk heart attacks and stroke.
"Although we cannot exclude the possibility that factors other than the medications accounted for the increased risk of injury, these medications may be more harmful in some individuals than thought," she added.
Researchers followed nearly 5,000 over-70s for three years, the majority of whom were on blood pressure medication.
During the three-year study period 446 patients (9pc) experienced serious injuries from falls and 111 people died as a result. Previous studies have shown that you would expect a similar number to die from heart attacks or strokes if they had not been treated with medication over the same period.
The research showed those taking medicine for hypertension were 30pc to 40pc more likely to have a fall and the risk more than doubled for those who had suffered previous falls.
The study was published in JAMA Internal Medicine