Beta blockers

What do beta blockers do?

Beta blockers are a group of medicines that slow your heart rate and lower your blood pressure, making it easier for the heart to pump blood. They have been shown to help patients with heart disease, high blood pressure or heart failure to live longer.

Beta blockers may be used for:

  • angina (chest pain caused by restricted blood flow to the heart)
  • high blood pressure
  • reducing the risk of having a heart attack
  • heart failure (where the heart does not pump blood around the body effectively)
  • atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat)
  • prevent migraine
  • anxiety conditions
  • treatment of an over-active thyroid
  • controlling tremor
  • glaucoma (as eye drops).

Types of beta blockers

There are several types of beta-blocker and each has its own characteristics. Your doctor will advise which one is best for you.

Names of beta blockers include:

Before you start a beta blocker:

  • Tell your doctor if you have asthma, have heart disease or are on any other medications.

When you first start on a beta blocker:

  • Your doctor will start you on a low dose then slowly increase it over the next few weeks.
  • It can take a while for you to feel better – usually a few months.
  • Do not suddenly stop taking your beta blocker without talking to your doctor first. This can be dangerous.

Possible side effects

When you first start on a beta blocker or get your dose increased you may feel tired or have other side effects for a few days. These side effects usually slowly go away with time. 

Side effects What should I do?

These are quite common when you first start taking a beta blocker, and usually go away with time.

  • cold hands and feet
  • rash or itching
  • dizziness, tiredness
  • constipation or diarrhoea
  • depression
  • nightmares or sleep problems
  • impotence
  • nausea 
  • Tell your doctor if they do not or are troublesome for you. 

If you get any of these symptoms: 

  • Problems breathing such as chest tightness or wheezing 
  • Swelling of the feet or legs
  • Feel like fainting
  • Chest pain
  • Changes in heart rate (fast, slow or irregular)
  • Allergic reaction such as skin rashes or itching
Tell your doctor immediately or ring HealthLine 0800 611 116.
Credits: Editorial team. Last reviewed: 30 May 2014