Beta-adrenoceptor blocking medicines – commonly known as beta blockers – are a medication which can only be prescribed by a GP or healthcare professional, and are not available to buy over the counter. They work by blocking certain nerve impulses, where a neurotransmitter is normally produced.
Usually, this works to stimulate receptors on certain parts of the body, including the heart. By blocking the site of the receptor, beta blockers help to prevent or slow down the effects on that part of the body (for example, stopping the heart from beating too quickly).
WHAT DO BETA BLOCKERS TREAT?
Most people will have heard of beta blockers, as they are a very common medication.
The likeliness is that if you are on our website, you will likely have heard of them in terms of what they can do for mental health conditions such as anxiety. However, beta blockers can be used to treat a variety of conditions, including:
- High blood pressure
- Heart failure and heart attacks
- Irregular heartbeat
- For an overactive thyroid
HOW WILL BETA BLOCKERS HELP?
With anxiety, beta blockers can be very useful to reduce the physical effects. They can help with:
Reducing tremors/shaking, Slowing down a rapid heartbeat, Preventing palpitations in the chest, Reducing sweaty palms, Stopping/Reducing excessive blushing (for some patients).
However, it is also important to recognise that beta blockers do not reduce the anxiety itself or its underlying causes, only the symptoms. So although beta blockers can be great in helping you to get through, a different medication or alternative treatment should be sought to tackle the underlying cause of the anxiety.
WHAT ARE THE SIDE EFFECTS FROM BETA BLOCKERS?
Because beta blockers can have an effect on multiple areas of the body, side effects could be present in any of these areas. On the other hand, most people who take beta blockers only have very slight side effects, or barely notice any at all. All noted side effects will be in the patient information leaflet provided with your medication, or alternatively you can ask your pharmacist or healthcare professional. Side effects may differ slightly depending on which beta blocker you take, but the most commonly reported side effects include:
- Becoming dizzy
- Getting blurred vision
- Feeling nauseous/upset stomach
- Feeling unusually tired
- Cold hands or feet (or both)
A lot of these side effects occur because beta blockers affect the heart, therefore the blood flow is also affected. The above side effects are usually linked to a difference in the heart rate or blood flow.
ARE THERE ANY RISKS WITH TAKING BETA BLOCKERS?
The main issue you are likely to face with beta blockers is the aforementioned common side effects, within the first few weeks of commencing treatment. This is purely because your body will be getting used to these changes, and in most cases you will feel ‘back to normal’ very soon. So as you can see, there isn’t really anything scary about beta blockers.
GP’s and healthcare professionals do have to be careful when prescribing them to people with certain conditions, as they can aggravate said conditions. Things to be aware of are:
If you have a history of asthma, beta blockers are unlikely to be prescribed, other than in exceptional circumstances. This is because beta blockers can sometimes restrict the airway in some way, therefore it increases the risk of an asthma attack.
Those with diabetes have to be very cautious, as beta blockers can often disguise the signals of low blood sugar. Due to this, it is very important to be monitoring blood sugar levels on a regular basis if you are prescribed beta blockers.
If your heart rate is very slow, or you have an abnormal heart rhythm, then beta blockers are not recommended as they can tamper with this further.
Understandably, if you have low blood pressure, then beta blockers are not recommended. This is because they will cause the blood pressure to drop even lower, which can be very dangerous.
This is only general advice. Your healthcare professional will know your individual circumstances best, so they are the people who will decide what is best for your particular condition.