Treatment with Beta Blockers
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
The class of drugs called beta blockers were given their name because this class of medications counteracts the stimulatory effects of epinephrine (adrenaline) on the so-called beta-adrenergic receptors found in many body tissues, including the nervous system and heart. Normal stimulation of the beta receptors leads to a faster heartbeat along with the constriction of blood vessels, resulting in an overall increase in blood pressure.
Beta blockers, therefore, counteract stimuli that lead to an elevated blood pressure, resulting in a slower pulse rate and a reduction in blood pressure. Both these effects reduce the workload of the heart, so beta blockers are of value in treating the symptoms of angina pectoris, the chest pain brought on by narrowing of the coronary arteries that causes inadequate delivery of oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle. Beta blockers also are prescribed as treatments for high blood pressure and have been shown to improve survival when administered following a heart attack.
Beta blockers can slow the passage of impulses through the heart, so they can also be valuable drugs for the management of cardiac arrhythmias (disruptions in the normal rhythm of the heart beat). Beta blockers have also been used in the treatment of
- social anxiety,
- some kinds of tremors, and
- in certain cases of mitral valve prolapse.
Drowsiness, fatigue, dizziness, and weakness are the most common side effects reported by patients who take beta blockers. Other side effects that may occur are dry mouth and eyes, dry skin, and feelings of coldness in the hands and feet. Less commonly, a decreased sex drive, shortness of breath, and sleep disturbances have been reported. Beta blockers are typically not prescribed for people suffering from asthma due to their potential for triggering an asthma attack.
Examples of common beta blockers include acebutolol (Sectral), propranolol (Inderal), atenolol (Tenormin), bisoprolol (Zebeta), metoprolol (Lopressor), nadolol (Corgard), timolol (Blocadren), nebivolol (Bystolic).
Last Editorial Review: 2/25/2008
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