Beta blockers

These drugs are often used to treat high blood pressure when other medications haven't worked.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Beta blockers, also known as beta-adrenergic blocking agents, are medications that reduce blood pressure. Beta blockers work by blocking the effects of the hormone epinephrine, also known as adrenaline.

Beta blockers cause the heart to beat more slowly and with less force, which lowers blood pressure. Beta blockers also help widen veins and arteries to improve blood flow.

Examples of beta blockers

Some beta blockers mainly affect the heart, while others affect both the heart and blood vessels. Your doctor will choose which beta blocker is best for you based on your health conditions.

Examples of beta blockers taken by mouth include:

  • Acebutolol
  • Atenolol (Tenormin)
  • Bisoprolol (Zebeta)
  • Metoprolol (Lopressor, Toprol XL)
  • Nadolol (Corgard)
  • Nebivolol (Bystolic)
  • Propranolol (Inderal, InnoPran XL)

When beta blockers are used

Beta blockers aren't recommended as a first treatment in people who have only high blood pressure. Beta blockers aren't usually prescribed for high blood pressure unless other medications, such as diuretics, haven't worked well. Also, a doctor may prescribe a beta blocker as one of several medications to lower blood pressure.

Beta blockers may not work as effectively for black people and older people, especially when taken without other blood pressure medications.

Beta blockers are used to prevent, treat or improve symptoms in people who have:

  • Irregular heart rhythm (arrhythmia)
  • Heart failure
  • Chest pain (angina)
  • Heart attacks
  • Migraine
  • Certain types of tremors

Your doctor may prescribe beta blockers along with other medications.

Side effects

Common side effects of beta blockers can include:

  • Cold hands or feet
  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain

Less common side effects include:

  • Depression
  • 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 check your blood sugar regularly if you have diabetes and you're taking a beta blocker.

Beta blockers can also affect cholesterol and triglyceride levels. They can cause a slight rise in triglycerides, a type of fat in the blood, and a modest decrease in good cholesterol, or high-density lipoprotein (HDL) 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 problem.

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Aug. 13, 2021 See more In-depth

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