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Preventive Cardiology: Beta-blockers
Commonly Prescribed Beta-Blockers
Examples of beta-blockers include:
Beta-blockers may be prescribed if you have:
- High blood pressure
- Coronary artery disease (CAD), including angina (pain or discomfort in the chest), or a history of heart attack
- Heart failure
- Arrhythmias (irregular heart rhythms) such as atrial fibrillation
- Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
- Pheochromocytoma, a rare tumor in the adrenal gland
- Thyrotoxicosis—worsening of hyperthyroidism
- Essential tremor
How Beta-Blockers Work
Beta-blockers block the effects of adrenaline on your body's beta-receptors. This slows the nerve impulses that travel through the heart. As a result, your heart does not have to work as hard because it needs less blood and oxygen. This decreases heart rate and blood pressure. Beta-blockers also block the impulses that can cause an arrhythmia.
Beta-blockers generally work by affecting the response to some nerve impulses. Your body has 2 main beta-receptors: beta 1 and beta 2. Some beta-blockers are selective, which means that they block beta 1 receptors more than they block beta 2 receptors. Beta 1 receptors are responsible for heart rate and the strength of your heartbeat. Nonselective beta-blockers block both beta 1 and beta 2 receptors. Beta 2 receptors are responsible for the function of your smooth muscles (muscles that control body functions but that you do not have voluntary control over, such as breathing tubes or arteries).
What You Should Know
There are many types of medicines, herbs, and supplements that can affect how beta-blockers work. Since there are many different kinds of beta-blockers, drug interactions will vary depending on the specific medicine that you are prescribed. Before you begin taking a beta-blocker, talk to your doctor about all of the prescription medicines, over-the-counter products, and supplements that you are taking.
Other Potential Concerns
If you have certain conditions, you may not be able to take some types of beta-blockers. For example, if you have asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), certain beta-blockers may make your symptoms worse. This class of drugs may also affect diabetes, heart block, peripheral arterial disease, and other conditions. If you are pregnant or nursing, it is important to discuss the risks of taking a beta-blockers with your doctor.
Talk to your doctor about your condition and any concerns that you have about taking beta-blockers.
Side effects include but are not limited to:
- Drowsiness or fatigue
- Cold hands and feet
- Slow heart rate
- Weakness or lightheadedness
- Trouble sleeping
- Loss of sex drive
American Heart Association
US Food and Drug Administration
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
Acebutolol. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated January 18, 2013. Accessed November 13, 2014
Atenolol. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated January 18, 2013. Accessed November 13, 2014.
Beta blockers for heart failure. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated November 11, 2014. Accessed November 13, 2014.
Cardiac medications. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/PreventionTreatmentofHeartAttack/Cardiac-Medications%5FUCM%5F303937%5FArticle.jsp. Updated October 24, 2014. Accessed November 13, 2014.
2/11/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Salpeter S, Ormiston T, Salpeter E. Cardioselective beta-blockers for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011;(1):CD003566.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 11/2014
- Update Date: 12/13/2012