Beta Blocker Therapy:
Preventing Heart Attacks and Strokes
Beta-adrenergic receptor blocking agents, more commonly known as beta blockers, are a group of medications which include:
- Atenolol (Tenormin)
- Metaprolol (Lopressor, Toprol)
- Propranolol (Inderal)
If you are at risk for developing heart disease—or even if you have already had a heart attack—taking a beta blocker every day can help keep you healthy. People who take beta blockers daily are much less likely to have a heart attack or die from a heart attack or stroke.
How do beta blockers help with heart disease?
Most people think beta blockers are just for lowering blood pressure, but they are also a very helpful medicine for your heart and blood vessels.
Beta blockers reduce the workload of the heart by relaxing the heart muscle and slowing down the heart rate. This allows your heart to pump blood more easily. Beta blockers are used to treat high blood pressure, heart failure, irregular heart beats, blocked arteries, and angina (chest pain). This medication reduces sudden death (without symptoms or warning) from heart attack in people with coronary heart disease. While taking a beta blocker by itself is not enough to prevent heart attacks and strokes, it is an important part of your medical treatment.
It is common to take other medications in addition to beta blockers to help protect against a heart attack or stroke. Ask your health care professional for more information about other medications that may help you.
What problems could I have taking a beta blocker?
Most people who take this medication have few or no side effects. Some people develop a very slow heart rate or low blood pressure, which can make you feel lightheaded.
People with well controlled asthma can usually take a beta blocker without any problem. In rare cases, the asthma can worsen. If you have uncontrolled asthma, you should not take beta blockers because they may make your asthma worse.
People with diabetes can usually take beta blockers without any problem, although they may reduce the ability to feel the symptoms of a very low blood sugar level (hypoglycemia).
To reduce the risk of having problems taking a beta blocker:
- Talk with your health care professional if you have asthma, heart rhythm problems, depression, or are taking other medications to treat high blood pressure or chest pain. Medications that you use for these conditions may interact with beta blockers.
- If you have severe allergic reactions (such as anaphylactic shock), you may notice a stronger reaction to allergens while taking this medication. You may need more than the usual amount of an epinephrine injection to treat a severe allergic reaction while taking a beta blocker.
- Do not take a beta blocker if you have had an allergic reaction to any type of beta blocker
- If you are pregnant or may become pregnant in the near future, consult your doctor about taking a beta blocker.
- Tell your doctor or other health care professional if you are taking any of these medications: Diltiazem (Cardizem, Dilacor) or Verapamil (Calan, Isoptin).
Can taking a beta blocker increase my chances of feeling tired?
Possibly, but your health care team will monitor you to make sure that you have no problems while taking this medication.
Will it make my asthma worse?
If you have poorly controlled asthma, you should avoid taking certain types of beta blockers. Discuss the benefits and risks of taking this medication with your health care professional.
Will I have trouble having sex?
Taking your beta blocker at night may help you to manage this possible side effect. Talk to your health care professional if you are concerned.