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Beta-blockers

Key points

  • Beta-blockers (or beta-adrenoreceptor blocking drugs) are medicines that help to prevent your heart from beating too fast.
  • They can be used to treat several conditions, including angina (chest pain) and high blood pressure.
  • Beta-blockers may also be used to help relieve the symptoms of anxiety.

Featured FAQ

Can you tell me more about the side-effects of beta-blockers?

Like all medicines, beta-blockers can cause side-effects. Many of these are mild and will go away after a few weeks. If you have side-effects, it’s important to talk to your doctor who prescribed your medicine rather than stopping taking it. He or she may need to change the dosage or your medicine.

See all our FAQs on beta-blockers

Beta-blockers are medicines that are used to treat a number of conditions including angina, high blood pressure, heart failure, heart attack, glaucoma and anxiety.

Why would I take beta-blockers?

Your doctor may prescribe you beta-blockers if you have a heart condition, such as:

Your doctor may also suggest beta-blockers to:

  • slow down your heart rate if it’s too fast following thyroid surgery
  • treat glaucoma (an eye condition caused by a build-up of pressure in your eye)

Beta-blockers are also used to relieve the symptoms of anxiety.

How do beta-blockers work?

Beta-blockers affect the way your heart works by slowing it down and causing it to beat with less force.

They can also help to reduce your blood pressure.

How to take beta-blockers

Beta-blockers are only available on prescription from a doctor. The type of beta-blocker you’re prescribed will depend on why you need them. They come as:

  • tablets or capsules
  • syrup or solution
  • injections
  • eye drops (for glaucoma)

The effects of some beta-blockers don’t last very long. So if you need beta-blocker tablets to help control a long-term condition, you may need to take them once or twice a day.

Beta-blockers may be prescribed in combination with other drugs such as nitrates.

Don’t stop taking your beta-blocker medicine suddenly as this may make your symptoms worse. If you need to stop taking them, your doctor will tell you how to reduce your dose gradually.

Always ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice and read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine.

Special care

Beta-blockers may affect other parts of your body, such as your lungs and muscles.

Your doctor may not prescribe you a beta-blocker, or will need to monitor you closely, if you have:

  • asthma or other breathing problems
  • severe heart failure
  • severe narrowing of the arteries that carry blood to your arms and legs (peripheral arterial disease)
  • low blood pressure
  • slow heart rate
  • diabetes – beta-blockers can hide the symptoms of low blood sugar levels

Ask your doctor or pharmacist for more information.

Side-effects of beta-blockers

Side-effects are the unwanted effects of taking a medicine. If you have side-effects from your beta-blocker medicine, it’s important to talk to your doctor before you stop taking it.

This section doesn’t include every possible side-effect of beta-blockers. Please read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine for more details. Some common side-effects are:

  • cold hands and feet
  • tiredness
  • headache
  • dizziness
  • sleep disturbance (nightmares)
  • sexual problems (erectile dysfunction)

Other side-effects can include:

  • depression
  • visual disturbances
  • skin rashes
  • dry eyes

Interactions of beta-blockers with other medicines

Check with your doctor or pharmacist before you take any other medicines at the same time as a beta-blocker.

Names of common beta-blockers

All medicines have a generic name. Many medicines also have one or more brand name. Generic names are in lower case, whereas brand names start with a capital letter. The main types of beta-blocker are shown in the table.

Generic names Examples of common brand names
acebutolol Sectral
atenolol Kalten
bisoprolol Cardicor
carvedilol Eucardic
celiprolol Celectol
esmolol Brevibloc
labetalol Trandate
metoprolol Betaloc
nadolol Corgard
nebivolol Nebilet
oxyprenolol Trasicor
pindolol Visken
propranolol Inderal-LA
sotalol Beta-Cardone
timolol Betim

 

Reviewed by Kuljeet Battoo, Bupa Health Information Team, July 2013.

Find out more about our health editors

 

For answers to frequently asked questions on this topic, see FAQs.

For sources and links to further information, see Resources.

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  • This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the about our health information page.

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