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 your heart to pump blood. They are used to treat a variety of conditions such as to:

Examples of beta blockers

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

Precautions before taking beta blockers

Sometimes a medicine isn’t suitable for a person with certain conditions, or it can only be used with extra care. It’s important that you tell your doctor or pharmacist before you start using beta blockers if you have:

  • asthma or COPD
  • diabetes
  • low blood pressure
  • very slow heart rate.

How to take beta blockers

When you first starting taking 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 and make you feel unwell. You may get the feeling of changes in your heart beat (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 gradual reduction in dose.

Possible side effects

When you first start taking 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 and low mood
  • nightmares or sleep problems
  • sexual problems
  • nausea 
  • Tell your doctor if they do not go away 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