Medically examined byDr. Patrick Carroll, MD
Written by our editorial team
Last updated on 03/02/2020
When you find yourself in a stressful or tense situation, your body has a natural fight-or-flight response that causes your heart to beat faster than normal. Beta blockers are a class of drugs that prevent the stress hormones that contribute to your body's fight-or-flight response from affecting your heart.
Most beta-blockers are designed to treat heart conditions such as high blood pressure, an irregular heartbeat, or a high risk of heart attack. They are also used to treat anxiety disorders, hyperthyroidism, tremors, and diseases like glaucoma.
Below we have explained in more detail what beta blockers are and what they do to your body when you use them. We also explained how beta blockers can be useful to treat anxiety and calm your nerves in difficult, stressful situations.
What are beta blockers?
Also known as beta-blockers, beta-blockers are drugs that block the effects of adrenaline or epinephrine — as well as other stress hormones like norepinephrine — on your heart.
Adrenaline and norepinephrine are used by your body to activate your musclesfight-or-flight mechanism, designed to protect you in a dangerous situation.
Normally, a stressful situation causes your body to increasingly release stress hormones, including adrenaline, resulting in a noticeably faster heartbeat. You may also notice your hands shaking and sweating and your voice becoming unsteady and weak.
Many people also experience dizziness - another physical effect of a surge in your body's adrenaline levels. This surge in adrenaline—and its noticeable effects—can cause you to panic under pressure.
Beta blockers reduce the effects of adrenaline on your heart and make it easier for your heart to relax in the presence of stress hormones. Instead of a rapid heartbeat, your heart beats at a normal pace, which limits the physical effects of adrenaline on your body.
There are numerous beta-blocker drugs. Most beta-blockers specifically target the heart, while others may also target the lungs and blood vessels. beta blockerscan also workto increase the effects of another class of medicines known as ACE inhibitors, which work by reducing your body's release of angiotensin, a hormone that can constrict your blood vessels.
What do beta blockers do?
Beta blockers are used to treat various diseases. Most beta-blockers are designed to treat heart conditions such as high blood pressure and an irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation), both of which can contribute to putting excessive strain on the heart.
By reducing the workload on the heart muscles, beta-blockers can make heart attacks and other serious health problems less likely — which is why they're often prescribed to people with these conditions.
Many doctors also prescribeBeta blockers for anxiety. By blocking the effects of stress hormones like adrenaline on your heart, beta-blockers can block the physical effects of anxiety on your body, such as: B. sweating, a fast heartbeat or dizziness.
When using beta-blockers for anxiety, it's important to understand that they don't treat the psychological causes of anxiety itself. Instead, they just make it easier for you to deal with your body's physical response to anxiety.
Some beta-blockers are also used to treat hyperthyroidism, which can contribute to excessive weight loss, tremors, trouble sleeping, nervousness, and other symptoms.
In addition to treating heart disease and reducing the physical effects of anxiety, beta blockers may have other health benefits.
For example, some are beta blockersassociated with reduced bone mineral lossin people with high blood pressure who are at risk for conditions such as osteoporosis and bone resorption compared to calcium channel blockers.
Beta blockers have been used since the 1960s, but today there are several beta blockers on the market, many of which are actively used to treat heart conditions and anxiety. Some of the most commonly used beta blockers are:
Atenolol(Video) How to safely come off beta blockers
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What are side effects of beta blockers?
Like almost all medications, beta blockers can have side effects. Most side effects of beta blockers are fairly mild. It's also possible for beta blockers to interact with other medications and cause more serious, more serious side effects.
The vast majority of people who use beta blockers do not experience any side effects. Overall, beta blockers are safe and very effective, with a low risk of side effects when used as directed by your doctor.
The most common side effects of beta blockers are:
Fatigue. Because beta blockers cause your heart rate to drop, it's common to feel a slight decrease in energy. Some people taking beta-blockers feel tired after starting treatment because of the drug's effects on the heart.
If you feel tired after using a beta-blocker, it's best to talk to your doctor. Most of the time, this side effect can be avoided by adjusting your dosage or using a different type of beta-blocker medication.(Video) Pharmacology - ALPHA & BETA BLOCKERS - ADRENERGIC ANTAGONISTS ( MADE EASY)
weight gain. Some beta-blockers, especially older drugs like metoprolol and atenolol, can contribute to weight gain. While there's no consensus as to why this happens, it's thought to be related to fluid retention or the drug's effects on your metabolism.
Most of the time, weight gain from beta blockers is fairly mild. Expect to gain a pound or two, if any. This weight gain can often be reversed by switching to a different beta blocker.
Cold feet and hands. Beta blockers can potentially make your hands and feet feel cold due to their effects on your blood flow. Like many other beta-blocker side effects, this can often be avoided by adjusting the dosage or switching medications.
Nausea, dizziness and lightheadedness. It's fairly common to feel slightly dizzy and light-headed after using beta-blockers, especially for the first few times. This side effect is usually temporary and goes away after using beta-blockers for several days.
There are also some less common side effects of beta blockers. These include:
Slow heartbeat. Beta blockers are designed to relieve cardiovascular stress by giving you a slower heartbeat. If you take too large a dose of your beta-blocker medication, you may experience bradycardia, or an abnormally slow heartbeat.
If your waking resting heart rate is below 50 beats per minute after taking a beta-blocker, contact your doctor. This side effect is most common when usingcalcium channel blockersat the same time as beta-blockers used to treat high blood pressure.
Higher cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Some beta-blockers can cause a decrease in your high-density lipoprotein (HDL or "good cholesterol") levels and an increase in triglycerides.
This side effect is often temporary and may reverse over time. Overall, beta-blockers are effective in treating heart disease and should not be avoided because of the possibility of changes in your cholesterol levels.
Asthma cases.Although the science is not fully settled here, some beta-blockers have been linked to an increased risk of asthma attacks in people with severe asthma.
This side effect is most commonly documented with older medications. This is less common with newer beta-blockers, most of which are safe for people with mild to moderate asthma.
Cramps. Although it's uncommon, some people experience cramps -- particularly in the abdominal muscles -- while using beta-blockers.
Depression. As with asthma attacks, the science surrounding beta-blockers and depression is not fully understood. A small percentage of people using beta-blockers experience depression and memory loss, although this may not be caused by the drug.
Because beta-blockers affect your heart rate, they can also affect your life in ways unrelated to anxiety and heart problems:
Interaction with stimulants. It's recommended to avoid stimulants like caffeine while using beta-blockers, as caffeine can increase your heart rate, anxiety symptoms, and blood pressure, and counteract the effects of beta-blockers.
impact on training. After taking a beta-blocker, your maximum heart rate is lower than normal. This means you may have less endurance during exercise, especially if you're doing cardiovascular exercise like running, biking, walking, or rowing.
Consumption of foods rich in sodium. Eating foods high in sodium — like fast food — can increase your blood pressure and put extra pressure on your heart. If you're prescribed a beta-blocker for heart problems, it's best to avoid eating foods high in sodium.
Consumption of foods rich in potassium. Because beta-blockers affect your body's ability to process potassium, it's also recommended that you avoid foods high in potassium if you're prescribed a beta-blocker for heart problems or anxiety.
Overall, beta blockers are a safe, reliable, and effective drug. Most people who take beta blockers experience few or no side effects, especially with the newer drugs used today.
Selective vs. non-selective beta-blockers
There are two main types of beta-blocker drugs: selective beta-blockers and non-selective beta-blockers.
Selective beta blockers are specifically designed to block thisβ1 receptors, which are mainly in the heart. Because the action of these beta blockers is more specific, they are usually safe to use if you have diabetes.
Common selective beta-blockers include acebutolol, atenolol, bisoprolol, betaxolol, bevantolol, celiprolol, metoprolol, esmolol, and nebivolol.
Because selective beta-blockers only affect β1 receptors, which are concentrated in heart tissue, they tend to be used to treat heart disease and are not a popular treatment option for anxiety.
Non-selective beta blockers are designed to block the β1, β2 and β3 receptors. This means that they not only target the beta receptors in the heart, but also affect the veins, liver, pancreas and a number of other parts of the body.
Common nonselective beta-blockers include alprenolol, carteolol, oxprenolol, propranolol, and sotalol. Nonselective beta-blockers can be used not only to treat certain heart conditions, but also to treat somephysical effects of fear.
Unlike selective beta blockers, nonselective beta blockers are not considered safe if you have diabetes.
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Learn more about beta blockers
Beta blockers are among the most commonly used medications in the world, prescribed for heart disease, anxiety and more. Safe, easy to use and effective, they deliver fast and noticeable results that make them ideal for preventing chronic anxiety and panic attacks.
OurGuide to Propranololgoes into more detail on how one of the most commonly used beta-blocker drugs works, from its history to key benefits, potential side effects, drug interactions, and more.
This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for, and should never be relied on, professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standardsHere.
What is the most common side effect of beta blockers? ›
Side effects commonly reported by people taking beta blockers include: feeling tired, dizzy or lightheaded (these can be signs of a slow heart rate) cold fingers or toes (beta blockers may affect the blood supply to your hands and feet) difficulties sleeping or nightmares.What do beta blockers do to a person? ›
Beta-blockers (beta-adrenoceptor blocking agents) work mainly by decreasing the activity of the heart. They do this by blocking the action of hormones like adrenaline. Beta-blockers are prescription-only medicines (POM). This means they can only be prescribed by a GP or a qualified healthcare professional.What are the uses and side effects of beta blockers? ›
- Beta blockers are most commonly used to treat high blood pressure and other heart-related problems.
- Some common side effects of beta blockers include a slow heart rate, low blood pressure, and dizziness. ...
- Serious side effects of beta blockers, like heart block and difficulty breathing, are rare.
How long can I stay on beta-blockers? You can use beta-blockers for extended periods. In some cases, especially for adults over 65, it's possible to use them for years or indefinitely.Should I be worried about taking beta-blockers? ›
Beta-blockers can cause lung muscle spasms that make it difficult to breathe. This is more common in people who have lung conditions. High blood sugar (hyperglycemia). Beta-blockers can trigger high blood sugar in people with diabetes.What to avoid with beta-blockers? ›
While on beta-blockers, you should also avoid eating or drinking products that have caffeine or taking over-the-counter cough and cold medicines, antihistamines, and antacids that contain aluminum. You should also avoid drinking alcohol, because it can decrease the effects of beta-blockers.What are the toxic effects of beta-blockers? ›
Beta-adrenergic antagonist (ie, beta-blocker) toxicity can produce clinical manifestations including bradycardia, hypotension, arrhythmias, hypothermia, hypoglycemia, and seizures (see the images below). The presentation may range from asymptomatic to shock.What foods to avoid when taking beta-blockers? ›
If you are taking a beta-blocker, your health care provider may recommend that you limit your consumption of bananas and other high potassium foods including papaya, tomato, avocado and kale.What is the safest beta blocker? ›
Based on research studies, there are three beta blockers that are best for heart failure: carvedilol, metoprolol succinate (the long-acting form of metoprolol), and bisoprolol. These beta blockers have been shown to lower your risk of dying from heart failure complications.Do beta-blockers weaken the heart? ›
Beta-blockers make your heart work less hard. This lowers your heart rate (pulse) and blood pressures. If your heart is weakened, certain beta-blockers can protect your heart and help it get stronger.
What is the most commonly prescribed beta blocker? ›
|Rank||Drug name||Number of prescriptions 2021|
Other drug classes used to treat similar conditions as beta-blockers include angiontenin-converting enzyme inhibitors, (ACEIs), angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs), aldosterone antagonists, calcium channel blockers (CCBs), vasodilators, diuretics, and medications which control the heart rate or heart rhythm.Is it OK to take beta blockers daily? ›
If you take beta-blockers regularly, you may have serious withdrawal symptoms if you suddenly stop. For some people, the side effects of beta-blockers may actually cause anxiety symptoms. You should follow up with your doctor as soon as possible if you feel like taking beta-blockers is increasing your anxiety.Is there a natural beta blocker? ›
Fish, garlic, berries, and certain vitamins and amino acids are all natural sources of beta-blockers. Doctors usually prescribe beta-blockers to treat cardiovascular conditions such as angina and hypertension, which is also known as high blood pressure.Can beta-blockers cause stroke? ›
TUESDAY, May 13 (HealthDay News) -- Patients who received the blood pressure-lowering drugs known as beta blockers after having non-cardiac surgery were at higher risk of dying or having a stroke, a new Canadian study found.Can you take vitamin D with beta-blockers? ›
No interactions were found between propranolol and Vitamin D3.Can you drink coffee on beta-blockers? ›
The Texas Heart Institute notes that you should avoid drinking or be eating caffeinated foods, drinks or prescriptions while on beta blockers.Can I take Tylenol with a beta-blocker? ›
Interactions between your drugs
No interactions were found between metoprolol and Tylenol.
People who took their blood pressure medications at bedtime were 45% less likely to experience a major cardiovascular outcome, such as heart attack or stroke, compared with people who took them in the morning.What happens when you stop beta-blockers? ›
An abrupt discontinuation of beta blockers increases your likelihood of experiencing a heart attack, angina and even death in part of the heart muscle—a condition called myocardial infarction.
Are beta-blockers healthy? ›
Beta-blockers are relatively effective, safe, and affordable. As a result, they're often the first line of treatment in heart conditions. The most common side effects of beta-blockers are: Fatigue and dizziness.Are bananas OK with beta-blockers? ›
People taking beta-blockers should therefore avoid taking potassium supplements, or eating large quantities of fruit (e.g., bananas), unless directed to do so by their doctor.What is the best time of day to take beta-blockers? ›
It's usually prescribed for high blood pressure and other heart problems, but it can also help with the physical signs of anxiety, like sweating and shaking. Your very first dose of propranolol may make you feel dizzy, so take it at bedtime. After that, if you do not feel dizzy, you can take it in the morning.Can you take vitamins with beta-blockers? ›
If you're taking beta-blockers, there are several reasons why you should check with your doctor before trying any new supplements, including vitamins, minerals, and herbal supplements. For example, beta-blockers may cause you to develop hyperkalemia, which is high blood levels of potassium.Which beta-blocker has the least amount of side effects? ›
There's not really one beta blocker that is least likely to cause side effects. Some experts believe that the cardioselective beta blockers may have a lower risk of certain side effects (e.g., fatigue, cold hands and feet), but there is no clear agreement amongst experts about this.What is the most toxic beta-blocker? ›
Propranolol is the most toxic beta-blocker and the most frequently used in suicide attempts worldwide.What is the most commonly prescribed beta-blocker? ›
|Rank||Drug name||Number of prescriptions 2021|
Other drug classes used to treat similar conditions as beta-blockers include angiontenin-converting enzyme inhibitors, (ACEIs), angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs), aldosterone antagonists, calcium channel blockers (CCBs), vasodilators, diuretics, and medications which control the heart rate or heart rhythm.What is the best alternative to beta-blockers? ›
Fish that are high in omega-3 include:
While beta blockers can reduce damage to the heart by taking the strain off, Dr. Shill explains that if taken incorrectly they could actually weaken the heart. When not taken as prescribed, they can do more harm than good.
Is it OK to take beta-blockers daily? ›
If you take beta-blockers regularly, you may have serious withdrawal symptoms if you suddenly stop. For some people, the side effects of beta-blockers may actually cause anxiety symptoms. You should follow up with your doctor as soon as possible if you feel like taking beta-blockers is increasing your anxiety.What happens if you stop taking beta blockers? ›
Stopping beta-blockers may cause withdrawal symptoms, including: Higher blood pressure. Chest pain. Anxiety.Can beta blockers cause weight gain? ›
Yes. Weight gain can occur as a side effect of some beta blockers. The average weight gain is about 2.6 pounds (1.2 kilograms). Weight gain is more likely with older beta blockers, such as atenolol (Tenormin) and metoprolol (Lopressor, Toprol-XL).What are the dangers of taking metoprolol? ›
Metoprolol may worsen the symptoms of heart failure in some patients. Check with your doctor right away if you are having chest pain or discomfort, dilated neck veins, extreme fatigue, irregular breathing or heartbeat, swelling of the face, fingers, feet, or lower legs, trouble breathing, or weight gain.