Beta blockers, also known as beta-adrenergic blocking agents, are medications that reduce your blood pressure. Beta blockers work by blocking the effects of the hormone epinephrine, also known as adrenaline.
When you take beta blockers, your heart beats more slowly and with less force, thereby reducing blood pressure. Beta blockers also help blood vessels open up to improve blood flow.
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 oral beta blockers include:
- Acebutolol (Sectral)
- Atenolol (Tenormin)
- Bisoprolol (Zebeta)
- Metoprolol (Lopressor, Toprol-XL)
- Nadolol (Corgard)
- Nebivolol (Bystolic)
- Propranolol (Inderal LA, InnoPran XL)
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
- Certain types of tremors
Beta blockers aren't usually prescribed for blood pressure until other 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.
Beta blockers may not work as effectively for people of African heritage and older people, especially when taken without other blood pressure medications.
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 or feet
- Weight gain
Less common side effects include:
- Shortness of breath
- Trouble sleeping
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 heartbeat. It's important to monitor your blood sugar regularly.
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.