Beta blockers are a class of medication that are prescribed to treat a variety of cardiovascular and other conditions
Beta blockers help your heart beat slower and with less force. As a result, your heart pumps less blood through your blood vessels. This causes your blood pressure to go down.
Clinical Uses of Beta Blockers
Beta blockers may be prescribed for a variety of cardiovascular conditions, including:
- Hypertension. Beta blockers are commonly prescribed to lower high blood pressure
- Heart rhythm problems. Beta blockers may be prescribed to treat abnormal heart rhythms and to prevent abnormally fast heart rates called tachycardia, or irregular rhythms like atrial fibrillation.
- Angina. Since they reduce the demand of the heart muscle for oxygen, beta blockers are useful in treating angina, or chest pain, which occurs when the oxygen demand of the heart exceeds the supply.
- After a heart attack. Beta blockers improve survival after a heart attack (myocardial infarction) and protect the heart from a second heart attack after a first heart attack (secondary prevention).
- Heart failure. Although beta blockers were once considered to worsen heart failure, more recent clinical studies have shown their ability to reduce the risk of death and hospitalization among those with heart failure.
Beta blockers are also prescribed for other medical conditions, including:
- Chronic headaches. Beta blockers are prescribed to reduce the number and severity of headache.
- Essential tremor
- Mitral valve prolapse
- Phaeochromocytoma, in conjunction with α-blocker
- Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome
- The control of anxiety and tremor in thosw with anxiety or hyperthyroidism
Social and other anxiety disorders
Beta blockers are also prescribed to minimize symptoms associated with anxiety disorders, including social anxiety. Although the mechanism of action is not known, it is theorized that the stress one feels during an anxiety attack, such as (pounding heart, cold/clammy hands, increased respiration, and sweating, are reduced by beta blockers and allow the person to concentrate on the task at hand.
Musicians, public speakers, actors, and professional dancers have been known to use beta blockers to avoid performance anxiety, stage fright and tremor during both auditions and public performances.
Types of Beta Blockers
There are a variety of beta blockers available under different brand names, including:
- acebutolol (Sectral®)
- atenolol (Tenormin®)
- bisoprolol fumarate (Zebeta®)
- carteolol hydrochloride (Cartrol®)
- metoprolol tartrate (Lopressor®)
- metoprolol succinate (Toprol®-XL)
- nadolol (Corgard®)
- penbutolol sulfate (Levatol®)
- pindolol (Visken®)
- propranolol (Inderal®)
- solotol hydrochloride (Betapace®)
- timolol (Blocadren®)
Some beta blockers are formulated in combination with other medications, such as a diuretic. For instance, bisoprolol is combined with hydrochlorothiazide (Ziac®)
Side effects may occur in people taking beta blockers, but most people tolerate these medications without any side effects.
Common side effects of beta blockers include:
- Cold hands and feet
- Tiredness or fatigue
- Slow heartbeat
- Constipation or diarrhea
Less common side effects include:
- Shortness of breath
- Loss of sex drive
Beta blockers generally not usually prescribed for people with asthma because of concerns that the medication may trigger severe asthma attacks.
In people who have diabetes, beta blockers may block signs of low blood sugar, such as rapid heartbeat. Those who have diabetes and take a beta blocker should closely monitor their blood sugar levels
Beta blockers can also affect your cholesterol and triglyceride levels, causing a slight increase in triglycerides and a modest decrease in high-density lipoprotein, the "good" cholesterol. These changes often are temporary. You shouldn't abruptly stop taking a beta blocker because doing so could increase your risk of a heart attack or other heart problems.
If you are taking a beta blocker and you become pregnant or plan on becoming pregnant, consult with your doctor or health care provider to determine whether you should stop or change medications.
Read the Medication Guide you receive with your prescription for a complete list of usage instructions and side effects.
Reference: National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute (NHLBI)