Beta blockers reduce blood pressure by blocking a chemical that stimulates the heart muscle. This allows the heart to beat more slowly and less forcefully, which ultimately reduces the blood pressure within the blood vessels. Some newer beta blockers also vasodilate- they keep blood vessels open by preventing muscles from tightening. The blood vessels relax, allowing the blood to flow more easily. This means that the heart doesn't have to pump as hard, and blood pressure is reduced.
Examples of beta blockers
Some beta blockers mainly affect your heart, while others affect both your heart and your blood vessels. Which one is best for you depends on your health and the condition being treated.
Examples of beta blockers include:
- Acebutolol (Sectral)
- Atenolol (Tenormin)
- Bisoprolol (Zebeta)
- Carvedilol (Coreg)
- Metoprolol (Lopressor, Toprol XL)
- Nadolol (Corgard)
- Nebivolol (Bystolic)
- Propranolol (Inderal LA)
Uses for beta blockers
Doctors prescribe beta blockers to prevent, treat or improve symptoms in a variety of conditions, such as:
- High blood pressure
- Irregular heart rhythm (arrhythmia)
- Heart failure
- Chest pain (angina)
- Heart attacks
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Certain types of tremors
Beta blockers aren't usually prescribed until other blood pressure medications, such as diuretics, haven't worked effectively. Your doctor may prescribe beta blockers as one of several medications to lower your blood pressure, including angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, diuretics or calcium channel blockers.
Side effects and cautions
Side effects may occur in people taking beta blockers. However, many people who take beta blockers won't have any side effects.
Common side effects of beta blockers include:
- Cold hands
Less common side effects include:
- Shortness of breath
- Trouble sleeping
- Loss of sex drive
Beta blockers generally aren't used in 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 heart beat. It's important to monitor your blood sugar on a regular basis.
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.