By blocking the action of the sympathetic nervous system on the heart, beta blockers relieve stress on the heart. They slow the heart beat, lessen the force with which the heart muscle contracts and reduce blood vessel contraction in the heart, brain, and throughout the body.
Beta blockers can serve to treat abnormal heart rhythms (cardiac arrhythmias). They are used specifically to prevent abnormally fast heart rates (tachycardias) or irregular heart rhythms such as premature ventricular beats.
Since beta blockers reduce the demand of the heart muscle for oxygen and the chest pain of angina pectoris occurs when the oxygen demand of the heart exceeds the supply, beta blockers can be useful in treating angina. They have also become an important drug in improving survival after a person has had a heart attack.
The beta blockers (with brand names) include acebutolol (SECTRAL), atenolol (TENORMIN), bisoprolol (ZEBETA), metoprolol (LOPRESSOR, LOPRESSOR LA, TOPROL XL), nadolol (CORGARD), and timolol (BLOCADREN). Beta blockers are also available in combination with a diuretic as, for example, with bisoprolol and hydrochlorothiazide (ZIAC).
Beta blockers reduce the pressure within the eye (the intraocular pressure), probably by reducing the production of the liquid (aqueous humor) within the eye, and so are used to lessen the risk of damage to the optic nerve and loss of vision in glaucoma. Beta blocker preparations for this purpose include timolol ophthalmic solution (TIMOPTIC) and betaxolol hydrochloride (BETOPTIC, BETOPTIC).