What Is a Beta Blocker?

A Beta blocker is a prescription drug used to lower blood pressure and reduce heart rate. It counteracts the effects of adrenaline to beta receptors, which are located throughout the body including the nervous system and heart. Beta blockers relax the heart and allow it to beat slower, which reduces blood pressure. Beta blockers also help open up blood vessels to improve blood flow.

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Beta blockers are used for treating high blood pressure, heart failure, glaucoma, hyperthyroidism, chest pain (angina), migraine headaches, heart attacks, irregular heart rhythm (arrhythmia), certain types of tremors and generalized anxiety disorder. Beta blockers also can help prevent sudden death if taken during or after having a heart attack.

Side Effects

Side effects of beta blockers include stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, trouble sleeping, shortness of breath, depression, loss of sex drive and cold hands. They are not used for people who have asthma as they may cause severe attacks. They also can increase one’s triglycerides, while lowering HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol) and increasing LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol).


The types of prescription beta blockers (brand names in parentheses) include acebutolol (Sectral), atenolol (Tenormin), betaxolol (Kerlone), betaxolol (Betoptic and Betoptic S), bisoprolol fumarate (Zebeta), carteolol (Cartrol), carvedilol (Coreg), esmolol (Brevibloc), labetalol (Trandate and Normodyne), metoprolol (Lopressor and Toprol XL), nadolol (Corgard), nebivolol (Bystolic), penbutolol (Levatol), pindolol (Visken), propranolol (Inderal and InnoPran), sotalol (Betapace), timolol (Blocadren) and timolol ophthalmic solution (Timoptic).


Before taking any beta blockers, consult your doctor or health care professional. Be sure to tell your doctor about any history of heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, asthma, lung disease, liver disease, overactive thyroid gland or drug allergies. Beta blockers should only be used during pregnancy if directed by a doctor. Beta blockers are excreted into breast milk so consult your doctor before breast feeding. Be sure to tell the surgeon before any operations that you are using a beta blocker. Don’t just stop taking your beta blocker as that can cause a heart attack or other health problems.


The cost of beta blockers vary widely from just under $10 to more than $200 per prescription. Be sure to check with your insurance provider to see which of these will be covered by your plan. Also, consult your doctor or health care professional to see if generic versions of the drug he or she prescribed are available.


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