Expand blood vessels and ease the workload of the heart
Are generally very effective at reducing blood pressure
Reduce deaths from heart disease
Many beta blockers are now available, including:
The drugs may differ in their effects and benefits.
Problems with beta blockers
On the downside, studies report an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes in people who take beta blockers. Also, people who already have diabetes should use caution taking beta blockers with other high blood pressure medications. This is because beta blockers may mask the symptoms of hyopglycemia (low blood sugar), which can be dangerous.
Because beta blockers can narrow bronchial airways and constrict blood vessels, patients with asthma, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis should avoid beta blockers if possible. Some beta blockers tend to lower HDL cholesterol (the "good" cholesterol).
Possible side effects include:
Fatigue and lethargy
Vivid dreams and nightmares
Confusion -- especially in the elderly
Dizziness and light-headedness upon standing
Lessened capacity for exercise
Cold hands, fingers, feet, toes
Decreased heart function
Stomach and digestive problems -- diarrhea or constipation
Asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis can be aggravated
If side effects occur, the patient should call a physician, but it is extremely important not to stop the drug abruptly. Angina, heart attack, and even sudden death have occurred in patients who discontinued treatment without gradual withdrawal.
Review Date: June 3, 2003
Reviewed By: Jacqueline A. Hart, M.D., Department of Internal Medicine,
Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Harvard University and Senior Medical Editor,
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