Purpose: In 24 patients with stable spontaneous and effort-related angina, ischemic episodes at rest were not preceded by changes in circulatory variables (heart rate, systemic and pulmonary arterial pressures) that may raise the myocardial oxygen consumption. We interpreted these episodes as caused by critical and reversible coronary flow reduction at the site of a stenotic lesion, and evaluated the clinical efficacy of nifedipine and propranolol in the treatment of this condition. Patients and methods: The study was randomized, placebo-controlled, and crossover in design. Nineteen of the 24 subjects were men (mean group age, 59 years; range, 47 to 65 years). The study consisted of four four-day periods. The first and the fourth periods, during which patients received placebo, were single-blind. The treatment consisted of 80 mg of propranolol or 20 mg of nifedipine administered four times daily. The second and the third periods, during which patients received propranolol or nifedipine crossing over to the alternative drug in the next period, were double-blind and separated by a 24-hour interval. Results: Propranolol fully abolished or reduced the number of spontaneous ischemic episodes in a significantly larger proportion of patients than did nifedipine; it was also effective in several cases in which nifedipine had failed or had even caused a paradoxic effect. Quantitative angiographic evaluation of the influences of nifedipine (Group 1, 12 patients, 10 mg sublingually) and propranolol (Group 2, 12 patients, 0.1 mg/kg intravenously) on the residual lumen diameter of one significant coronary stenosis in each patient showed that (1) after nifedipine, the lumen was unchanged in one, augmented in seven, and reduced in four cases; (2) variations ranged between +1.59 and -1.2 mm, and their direction correlated closely with the influence of oral nifedipine on the episodes of spontaneous ischemia; and (3) in no case did treatment with propranolol vary the stenosis lumen by more than 0.3 mm. Conclusion: In this form of angina, a number of lesions seem to offer a compliant substrate for vasomotion and, possibly, for critical changes in flow. The vasomotor influences of nifedipine on these lesions are variable as well as the efficacy of the drug on the manifestations of ischemia at rest. Propranolol produces no important variations of the coronary stenotic lesions, causes a decrease of heart rate that facilitates coronary flow in diastole, and reduces the baseline metabolic demand of the heart so that the threshold of ischemia during critical reduction of coronary flow may become elevated.
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