Drug Treatments: Beta Blockers  

Beta blockers:

  • Slow the frequency of heart beats
  • 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:

  • propranolol (Inderal)
  • acebutolol (Sectral)
  • atenolol (Tenormin)
  • betaxolol (Kerlone)
  • carteolol (Cartrol)
  • metoprolol (Lopressor)
  • nadolol (Corgard)
  • penbutolol (Levatol)
  • pindolol (Visken)
  • carvedilol (Coreg)
  • timolol (Blocadren)

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).

Side effects

Possible side effects include:

  • Fatigue and lethargy
  • Insomnia
  • Vivid dreams and nightmares
  • Depression
  • Memory loss
  • 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
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • 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.


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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, A.D.A.M., Inc.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. Copyright 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.


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