Review Finds Evidence for Beta-Blockers for Some Rosacea Symptoms

Richard Mark Kirkner

September 28, 2020

A systematic review of nine studies provided limited evidence that off-label oral nonselective beta-blockers can be an effective treatment for facial erythema and flushing in rosacea, while at the same time underscoring the paucity of evidence supporting their use, investigators reported.

"The evidence was highest for carvedilol and propranolol, two nonselective beta-blockers," wrote the authors of the review, Jade G.M. Logger, MD, of the department of dermatology, Radboud University Medical Center in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, and coauthors. Their review is in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

The systematic review included a case control study of 53,927 patients and an equal number of controls that evaluated beta-blockers in general, but the remaining studies and case reports included only 106 patients in total. The largest was a prospective cohort study of propranolol in 63 patients. Other studies included a 15-patient randomized clinical trial of nadolol published 31 years ago and three single-patient case reports.

The studies included patients with a history of failed therapies; only a small number of beta-blockers were evaluated. Outcomes reported in the studies varied widely, which ruled out doing a meta-analysis. "Erythema and flushing were assessed by using a wide spectrum of mostly subjective clinical and patient-based scores, and method standardization was often missing," the researchers stated.

"Most studies showed improved erythema and flushing after initiation of oral beta-blockers," Dr. Logger and colleagues wrote. Treatment of facial erythema and flushing remains a clinical challenge despite approved therapies, for which poor response and reactivation are common. "Diminishing erythema and flushing in rosacea is challenging because it hardly responds to conventional anti-inflammatory treatment," they noted.

"The study adds no new evidence to support the use of beta-blockers," Diane M. Thiboutot, MD, professor of dermatology at Penn State University, Hershey, said in an interview. "As the authors point out, the nine studies reviewed were of low quality with a variety of outcome measures that precluded generation of a meta-analysis, which would have represented new information."

Dr. Thiboutot is lead author of a 2019 update of management options for rosacea published by the National Rosacea Society Expert Committee last year.. Beta blockers are among the drugs that are sometimes prescribed off label to help rosacea-associated flushing, along with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, antihistamines, and clonidine, according to the update.

Dr. Logger and coauthors noted that beta-blockers come with risks, and can aggravate asthma and psoriasis and are contraindicated in patients with heart failure, cardiogenic shock, and other cardiovascular diseases, along with hyperactive airway and Raynaud's disease. "It is important to monitor patients for adverse effects, especially blood pressure and heart rate," they stated. Carvedilol and propranolol may have more antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties than other nonselective beta-blockers that may curtail rosacea manifestations, they wrote.

They called for large, prospective clinical trials to more accurately assess the efficacy of beta-blockers in rosacea patients. "Researchers should further focus on the determination of the optimal dosage, treatment duration, and long-term therapeutic effects for adequate treatment of erythema and flushing in rosacea," they said.

Getting those trials is challenging, Dr. Thiboutot said. "Objective and even subjective measurement of transient and persistent facial erythema is extremely challenging, particularly in the setting of a prospective clinical trial." The trials would have to control for a number of variables, including room conditions, patient diet, and timing of medication, and large trials require multiple sites," which could add to the variability of the data," she said in the interview. Funding such trials would be difficult because adding an indication for rosacea-related symptoms would have limited commercial potential, she added.

Nonetheless, the studies would be welcome, Dr. Thiboutot said. "If standardized outcome measures for facial erythema were to be developed, a study would be more feasible."

Dr. Logger disclosed financial relationships with Galderma, AbbVie, Novartis, Janssen, and LEO Pharma; one author disclosed conducting clinical trials for AbbVie and Novartis; the third author disclosed relationships with Galderma, Cutanea Life Sciences, AbbVie, Novartis, and Janssen, with fees paid to his institution. Dr. Thiboutot disclosed a financial relationship with Galderma.

SOURCE: Logger JGM et al. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2020 Oct;83(4):1088-97.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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