Beta Blocker Drugs

Beta Blockers Are Used to Treat Many Medical Conditions

Beta blockers
Beta Blockers. Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

Beta blockers are among the most commonly used drugs in medicine. They work by blocking the effect of adrenaline on the tissues, specifically, by blocking the “beta receptors” that bind adrenaline. Among other things, this beta blocking action slows the heart rate, reduces the force of contraction of the heart muscle, reduces the amount of oxygen the heart muscle needs to do its work, reduces stress on the vascular system, and tends to lower the blood pressure.

Given these effects, it is not surprising that beta blockers have proven useful in treating a host of medical conditions, especially cardiovascular problems. These include:

Beta blockers are a first line of therapy for patients with stable angina, myocardial infarction, and heart failure. They are generally not used as initial therapy for hypertension, but can be quite helpful if combination drug therapy is needed for blood pressure control.

Commonly Used Beta Blockers

Given the many uses of beta blockers, it is perhaps not surprising that drug companies have developed quite a few of them.

Here is a list of commonly used beta blockers (generic name - trade name):

  • Acebutolol - Sectral
  • Atenolol - Tenormin
  • Betaxolol - Kerlone
  • Bisoprolol - Zebeta, also sold as Ziac
  • Carteolol - Cartrol
  • Carvedilol - Coreg
  • Labetalol - Normodyne, also sold as Trandate
  • Metoprolol - Lopressor, also sold as Toprol
  • Nadolol - Corgard
  • Penbutolol - Levatol
  • Propranolol - Inderal, Inderal LA
  • Timolol - Blocadren

How Beta Blockers are Taken

There are obviously a lot of different beta blockers available, and the specific instructions on how often and what time of day to take them will vary from drug to drug. However, as a general rule the side effects of beta blockers can usually be minimized by taking them with a meal - which causes these drugs to be absorbed more gradually.

Side Effects of Beta Blockers

The side effects of beta blockers are related mainly to their underlying mechanism of action, that is, to their adrenaline-blocking effects. Side effects include:

  • Worsening of symptoms in people with asthma. This is perhaps the most limiting side effect of beta blockers.
  • Worsening of symptoms in people with peripheral artery disease.
  • Making hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) more likely in people with diabetes.
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Cold hands
  • Headache
  • Constipation
  • Sexual dysfunction

In pregnant women beta blockers are avoided when possible, since they can affect the baby by causing a slow heart rate, reduced blood pressure, and lower blood sugar levels.

In general the side effects of beta blockers can often be managed by a careful choice of which beta blocker is selected, and by attempting to use smaller doses.

Sources:

Fihn SD, Gardin JM, Abrams J, et al. 2012 ACCF/AHA/ACP/AATS/PCNA/SCAI/STS guideline for the diagnosis and management of patients with stable ischemic heart disease: a report of the American College of Cardiology Foundation/American Heart Association task force on practice guidelines, and the American College of Physicians, American Association for Thoracic Surgery, Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association, Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions, and Society of Thoracic Surgeons. Circulation 2012; 126:e354.

WRITING COMMITTEE MEMBERS, Yancy CW, Jessup M, et al. 2013 ACCF/AHA guideline for the management of heart failure: a report of the American College of Cardiology Foundation/American Heart Association Task Force on practice guidelines. Circulation 2013; 128:e240.

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