What Are Beta Blockers Used For?
Beta blockers are a prescription medication that are most commonly used to treat conditions that affect your heart and circulatory system, although they can also be used to treat conditions related to your brain and nervous system. Beta blockers treat these conditions by slowing down certain types of cell activity, which can help manage your blood pressure and heart rate.
How Beta Blockers Work
Beta blockers work by blocking the effects of adrenaline and slowing the heart’s rate, which reduces the amount of oxygen that the heart requires. Your body is a dense system of electrical signals that control certain processes and functions, which occurs when chemicals known as neurotransmitters latch onto specific surfaces of the cells called receptors.
Beta blockers artificially affect this chemical signaling process by attaching to key receptors known as adrenergic receptors. These receptors naturally produce the neurotransmitter known as adrenaline, which can activate all adrenergic receptors. Beta blockers are beta receptor antagonists, so they work by blocking beta-adrenergic receptors which slows down certain types of cell activity due to less adrenaline being produced.
Beta receptors consist of three subtypes that have different functions depending on where in the body they are located. Beta-1 (B1) receptors are found in the heart and kidneys, and when activated, they increase your heart rate, increase the heart pumping force, and activate the release of an enzyme known as renin which is found in the kidneys.
Beta-2 (B2) receptors are found in smooth muscle such as the respiratory system, blood vessels, and nervous system. When activated, the B1 in the respiratory system causes smooth muscle to relax so people breathe more easily, while the B1 in the blood vessels relaxes smooth muscle to lower blood pressure. In the liver, this receptor activates the liver’s conversion of glycogen into glucose. In the heart, B1 increases the pumping force and heart rate, and in the nervous system it causes muscle tremors.
Beta-3 (B3) receptors are found in fat cells and the bladder. When these receptors are activated, they break down fat cells, cause relaxation and increase in bladder capacity, and cause tremors. Beta blockers slow down cell activity to prevent these receptors from overworking to reduce the risk or symptoms of certain health conditions.
Why Take Beta Blockers
Your doctor may prescribe beta blockers if you suffer from circulatory or heart conditions such as heart failure, high blood pressure, heart attacks, chest pain, arrhythmias, aortic dissection, coronary artery disease, enlarged heart, migraines, and portal hypertension. Other medical conditions that beta blockers can treat include essential tremors, glaucoma, and hyperthyroidism.
Side Effects Of Beta Blockers
Since beta blockers affect your heart and circulatory systems, there are many possible side effects. Common side effects of beta blockers include slow heart rate, cold hands, diarrhea or constipation, shortness of breath, depression, low blood pressure, irregular heart rhythms, dizziness or fatigue, nausea, insomnia and other changes in sleep patterns, and dry mouth or eyes. Rare side effects include sexual and erectile dysfunction.
There are certain pre-existing conditions where it is not recommended to take beta blockers, as the medication can negatively impact these diseases. These conditions include moderate to severe asthma, certain types of arrhythmias, slow heart rate or low blood pressure, hypoglycemia, and Raynaud’s phenomenon (a condition causing decreased circulation in the body). You should also not take beta blockers if you are pregnant, as the medication can cause the baby to have low blood pressure, trouble breathing, or slow heart rate.
Contact your doctor immediately if you have a sudden change in symptoms while taking beta blockers, or if you experience symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain, heart palpitations, fainting unexpectedly, or having multiple instances of feeling lightheaded or dizzy.
The Advantages Of Beta Blockers
Even with the possibility of adverse effects, there is a reason why beta blockers are commonly prescribed medications, with around 30 million United States adults taking this medicine. A main reason is because they are effective for a wide range of medical issues, and treating one problem with a beta blocker can also benefit related medical conditions.
Another reason beta blockers are widely used is due to this medicine having been studied extensively. Beta blockers have been in use for decades, with the first clinical trials taking place in the 1960s. This means that their effects are well understood and doctors know how to manage negative side effects. An added benefit of these drugs is that they are typically affordable, especially the generic versions. This makes treatment accessible for people of all income levels.