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Beta blockers

Beta blockers are used to treat high blood pressure (hypertension), but they’re usually not prescribed in the first instance. This is because other medicines with fewer health risks are available. Yet, beta blockers can be useful for some people.

How 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 also help the heart to beat more regularly.

Potential risks of beta blockers

Beta blockers are not suitable for people with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). They can also cause low mood and can sometimes mask the signs of low glucose in people with diabetes. They are not suitable as the first choice of medication for people with high blood pressure that’s not complicated by other conditions.

Still, beta blockers can be very useful when combined with other high blood pressure medications, especially if other heart conditions are present, such as:

  • angina - pain in the chest caused by too little blood and oxygen getting to the heart
  • arrhythmia - irregular or fast heart beat or rhythm
  • after a heart attack.

Last reviewed: February 2017

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