Beta Blockers – Side Effects & Precautions

This important and widely used class of drugs treats several cardiovascular conditions.

Beta blockers are a group of medicines used to lower blood pressure.

They're given to treat or prevent a variety of conditions, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Chest pain
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Heart attack
  • Glaucoma
  • Migraines
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Tremors
  • Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)

How Do Beta Blockers Work?

Beta blockers work by blocking the effects of the hormone adrenaline, also known as epinephrine.

They cause the heart to beat more slowly and with less force, which lowers blood pressure.

They also help open up blood vessels to improve blood flow.

Some types of beta blockers mainly affect the heart. Others affect both the heart and blood vessels.

Common Beta Blockers

Some commonly prescribed beta blockers include:

  • Sectral (acebutolol)
  • Tenormin (atenolol)
  • Kerlone (betaxolol)
  • Zebeta and Ziac (bisoprolol)
  • Coreg (carvedilol)
  • Normodyne and Trandate (labetalol)
  • Lopressor and Toprol-XL (metoprolol)
  • Corgard (nadolol)
  • Bystolic (nebivolol)
  • Levatol (penbutolol)
  • Visken (pindolol)
  • Inderal and Inderal LA (propranolol)
  • Blocadren (timolol)

Side Effects of Beta Blockers

Common side effects of beta blockers include:

  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Drowsiness or fatigue
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Dry mouth, skin, or eyes
  • Headache
  • Upset stomach
  • Diarrhea or constipation

Less common side effects include:

  • Depression
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing or trouble breathing
  • Loss of sex drive/erectile dysfunction (ED)
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Swelling of the hands or feet
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Skin rash
  • Sore throat
  • Memory loss or confusion
  • Back or joint pain

Beta Blocker Precautions

If you have asthma or diabetes, talk to your doctor before taking a beta blocker.

These drugs may trigger a severe asthma attack and can mask signs of low blood sugar.

Let your doctor know about all other medical conditions you have before starting on a beta blocker.

Also, tell your doctor about all medicines you're taking, especially:

  • Other medications for high blood pressure
  • Antidepressants
  • Drugs for diabetes (including insulin)
  • Medications for asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Allergy shots
  • Antacids that contain aluminum
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) cough, cold, or allergy medicines

Beta Blockers, Alcohol, and Caffeine

Avoid eating or drinking products that contain alcohol or caffeine, since these drugs can affect how beta blockers work in your body.

Beta Blockers and Pregnancy

Tell your doctor if you're pregnant, or might become pregnant, while taking a beta blocker.

Some beta blockers may be safe to take during pregnancy, while others may be harmful. Discuss the risks and benefits of taking these drugs with your doctor.

Also, talk to your healthcare provider before taking a beta blocker if you're breastfeeding.

Beta Blockers and Certain Populations

Beta blockers may not work as well in people of African descent as in other racial or ethnic groups. Discuss this potential effect with your doctor.

Older people tend to experience more unwanted side effects when taking beta blockers.

Talk to your doctor about this risk if you're over age 60.

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