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Beta blockers

4-minute read

Key facts

  • Beta blockers are a type of medicine that makes the heart beat more slowly.
  • A slower heartbeat usually also leads to lower blood pressure.
  • Beta blockers are commonly used for heart conditions such as ischaemic heart disease, heart failure and arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat).
  • Beta blockers are also sometimes used for other conditions including migraine, glaucoma, anxiety and some types of tremors.
  • If you have other medical conditions, your doctor will discuss the benefits and disadvantages of taking beta blockers.

What are beta blockers?

Beta blockers are a type of medicine that makes the heart beat more slowly. This also leads to lower blood pressure. You may also see them spelled β-blockers.

Beta blockers are usually not prescribed in the first instance for people who only have high blood pressure (hypertension). They can be useful for some people with high blood pressure and other conditions. This includes ischaemic heart disease and heart failure.

How do beta blockers work?

Beta blockers work by blocking the effects of the hormone adrenaline. They make your heart beat slower and relax the blood vessels, which, in turn, reduces blood pressure. Beta blockers can also help the heart beat more regularly.

What are beta blockers used for?

Beta blockers can be useful when combined with other heart medicines to treat heart conditions such as:

  • angina — pain in the chest caused by too little blood and oxygen getting to the heart
  • arrhythmia — irregular heart rhythm
  • after a heart attack

Apart from treating heart conditions, beta blockers can be used to prevent or treat other conditions, such as:

What are the potential risks of beta blockers?

Beta blockers should be avoided or used with caution for people with asthma because they can trigger asthma attacks. Some types of beta blockers may be safer than others for people with asthma.

Most people with chronic pulmonary obstructive disorder (COPD) can safely take beta blockers.

If you have diabetes and take beta blockers, it’s a good idea to check your blood sugar more frequently. This is because beta blockers can sometimes mask the signs of low glucose (hypoglycaemia), such as a fast heartbeat.

Do not stop taking beta blockers suddenly. Suddenly stopping beta blockers may increase your risk of a heart attack or another heart problem. Always talk to your doctor before stopping treatment with a beta blocker.

It’s important to discuss the potential side effects of beta blockers with your doctor. You can also check the consumer medical information leaflet that comes with your medicine.

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Last reviewed: December 2022

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