Beta blockers are a group of medicines that are used to treat a variety of conditions related to your heart.
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 your heart to pump blood. They are used to treat a variety of conditions related to your heart such as:
- control of heart rhythm disorders (atrial fibrillation)
- to treat heart failure
- to lower the chance of another heart attack (myocardial infarction) if you've already had one
- preventing chest pain (angina)
- to treat high blood pressure.
Beta blockers are also used for other conditions such as:
- reducing tremors
- reducing symptoms of anxiety such as fast heart rate
- preventing migraine headaches
- glaucoma, as beta blocker eye drops to reduce the pressure in your eye.
The following animation describes how beta blockers work in the body.
(Source: British Heart Foundation, 2018)
Examples of beta blockers
There are several beta blockers and each is a bit different. Your doctor will advise which one is best for you.
|Examples of beta blockers|
Things to consider while you are taking beta blockers
When you first starting taking a beta blocker, your doctor will start you on a low dose then slowly increase it over a few weeks. It can take a while for you to feel better – usually a few months.
Do not suddenly stop taking your beta blocker
Don't suddenly stop taking your beta blocker without talking to your doctor first. This can be dangerous and make you feel unwell. You may get the feeling of changes in your heartbeat (fast, quick and irregular or forceful heartbeats), an increase in blood pressure and a return of chest pains. If you do need to stop taking a beta blocker then your doctor may advise a slow reduction in dose.
If you have diabetes
If you have diabetes you need to take extra care to measure your blood glucose levels regularly.
- Beta blockers can cause an increase in blood glucose levels, especially when you first start taking them. This effect usually settles with time.
- Beta blockers may reduce the warning signs of a low blood glucose level (hypoglycaemia – often called a hypo). For example, you may not have the feeling of fast, irregular or strong heartbeats (palpitations) or tremor, which can occur when your blood glucose is going too low. If you are worried about this, talk to your doctor. Do not stop taking your beta blocker without checking with your doctor first. Read more about hypoglycaemia.
If you have asthma
If you have asthma, taking a beta blocker may trigger your asthma symptoms or make them worse. Not everybody with asthma is sensitive to these medicines. If you are worried about this, talk to your doctor. They may be able to prescribe a different medicine or increase the dose of your asthma preventer medication. Do not suddenly stop taking your beta blocker without talking to your doctor first. This can be dangerous and make you feel unwell. Read more about medicines that may trigger asthma symptoms.
- Beta-adrenoceptor blocking drugs New Zealand Formulary