How Do Alpha/Beta Agonists Work?

Reviewed on 1/12/2022

How do alpha/beta agonists work?

Alpha/beta agonists are medications for treating bronchial conditions such as asthma and croup, and anaphylaxis, a serious multisystem allergic reaction. Alpha/beta agonists are also used in critical care to revive a person after a cardiac arrest.

Alpha/beta agonists are a synthetic formulation of epinephrine, a hormone naturally produced in our bodies by the adrenal gland. Alpha/beta agonists work by enhancing the activity of alpha and beta adrenergic receptors, which are protein molecules on cell surfaces that are activated by epinephrine, and norepinephrine, another hormone.

By stimulating alpha and beta receptors, alpha/beta agonists produce several effects in the body which include:

  • An increase in heart rate and the force of heart contractions, which increases the cardiac output.
  • Constriction of systemic blood vessels and increase in blood pressure.
  • Relaxation of bronchial smooth muscles eases breathing.

How are alpha/beta agonists used?

Alpha/beta agonists are available in inhalers over the counter, but injectable solutions require a prescription. Alpha/beta agonists are administered through the following routes:

Inhalations: Inhaled using inhalers or nebulizers


Subcutaneous (SC) and intramuscular (IM) injections using prefilled autoinjector or syringe

Intravenous (IV), intracardiac, or into the endotracheal tube in clinical settings

Alpha/beta agonists are used in the treatment of:

What are side effects of alpha/beta agonists?

Side effects of alpha/beta agonists may include the following:

Information contained herein is not intended to cover all possible side effects, precautions, warnings, drug interactions, allergic reactions, or adverse effects. Check with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure these drugs do not cause any harm when you take them along with other medicines. Never stop taking your medication and never change your dose or frequency without consulting your doctor.

What are names of alpha/beta agonist drugs?

Generic and brand names of alpha/beta agonist drugs include:


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