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 work as hard and 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. Nonselective beta-blockers block both beta 1 and beta 2 receptors. Beta 1 receptors are responsible for heart rate and the strength of your heartbeat. 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 medications, 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 medication that you are prescribed. Before you begin taking a beta-blocker, talk to your doctor about all of the prescription medications, 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, asthma, heart block, peripheral artery 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.
American Heart Association
Food and Drug Administration
Heart & Stroke Foundation
Acebutolol. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated July 7, 2016. Accessed August 16, 2016
Atenolol. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated July 7, 2016. Accessed August 16, 2016.
Beta blockers for heart failure. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated May 22, 2016. Accessed August 16, 2016.
Cardiac medications. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/PreventionTreatmentofHeartAttack/Cardiac-Medications_UCM_303937_Article.jsp. Updated May 26, 2016. Accessed August 16, 2016.
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.
Last reviewed August 2016 by Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 8/16/2016