Beta-blockers are a class of medicines most commonly used for problems involving your heart and your circulatory system. They also are sometimes used to treat conditions related to your brain and nervous system. Beta-blockers work by slowing down certain types of cell activity, which can help control blood pressure, heart rate and more.
Beta-blockers are a class of medicines commonly used to treat a wide range of problems involving your heart and your circulatory system. They also are sometimes used to treat conditions related to your brain and nervous system.
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Your body uses a chemical signaling system to control certain processes and functions. This uses specific sites on the surface of your cells, called receptors, where certain chemicals — called neurotransmitters — can latch on.
Receptors work similarly to locks. If a chemical with the right structure latches onto a receptor, it works like a key and activates the cell to respond a certain way. How the cell responds depends on where it is and what it does. If your body needs certain cells to act, it can produce more of the chemical that can activate the cells’ receptors.
Many medications work by artificially affecting that chemical signaling process. Medications that work like this fall into two categories:
Adrenergic receptors (sometimes called adrenoceptors) are a key type of receptor found throughout your body. They get their name from adrenaline (also called epinephrine), a neurotransmitter that your body produces naturally. Adrenaline can activate all adrenergic receptors, much like a building master key can open every lock inside that structure.
Beta-blockers are beta receptor antagonists, meaning they block beta-adrenergic receptors and slow down certain types of cell activity.
Beta receptors come in three different sub-types and have different functions depending on their location.
The beta-1 receptors are found mainly in the heart and kidneys. When activated, they do the following:
The beta-2 receptors are found mainly in smooth muscle tissue. That tissue is in your respiratory system (especially your trachea and bronchial tubes), blood vessels and your nervous system). When activated, these receptors affect various body systems in the following ways:
Beta-3 receptors are found mainly in fat cells and in your bladder. When activated, they do the following:
Because beta-receptors are found in several locations throughout the body, beta-blockers can treat a wide range of problems and conditions.
Beta-blockers are mainly used to treat heart and circulatory conditions, including the following:
Outside of the heart and circulatory system, they can treat several other conditions:
Some beta-blockers are only effective on certain beta receptors, a property known as “selectivity.” It’s a key consideration when healthcare providers choose which beta-blocker to prescribe.
Beta-blockers generally fall into two broad categories based on whether or not they are cardioselective, meaning they block just the B1 receptors mainly found in the heart.
|Cardioselective (B1 receptor)||Nonselective|
|Cardioselective (B1 receptor)|
*These medications have distinctive or unique properties. Examples of those properties include:
Beta-blockers are sometimes used for “off-label” purposes. This means that they’re prescribed for conditions other than the ones they’re specifically approved to treat.
Off-label prescribing is a legal practice and is medically acceptable and justified when evidence shows a medication has a low risk of causing harmful side effects and is effective for off-label use.
Common off-label treatment uses of beta-blockers include:
Beta-blockers are some of the most commonly prescribed medications in the United States, with approximately 30 million adults using a beta-blocker.
Beta-blockers are commonly used for several reasons:
Because beta-blockers affect your heart and circulatory systems, they can have a wide range of side effects. As a result, healthcare providers often prescribe specific beta-blockers to limit or avoid these side effects.
Common side effects of all beta-blockers include:
Rare side effects include:
Beta-blockers can negatively impact several diseases, conditions and health concerns. These are known as contraindications and include:
Beta-blockers can interact with a wide range of medications, especially those related to the side effects or contraindications above. Your healthcare provider can best inform you of the side effects that are of greatest concern to you.
You can use beta-blockers for extended periods. In some cases, especially for adults over 65, it’s possible to use them for years or indefinitely.
Your healthcare provider can advise you on when you should call or schedule an appointment related to taking beta-blockers. In general, you should call or schedule an appointment if you have a sudden change in symptoms, especially ones related to your heart and circulatory system. These include:
Other symptoms to watch for and ask your doctor about include:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Beta-blockers are a widely used, commonly prescribed class of medications. They can treat a wide range of problems, ranging from high blood pressure and heart problems to preventing migraines and anxiety attacks. Though they’ve been in use for decades, there are still instances where they aren’t the best choice. It’s a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider about any concerns or questions you might have. They can answer your questions and help you use these medications in the best way possible.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/18/2022.
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