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What is a beta blocker?

Beta blockers, like metoprolol and atenolol, are prescription drugs that lower blood pressure by blocking the effects of adrenaline

Beta blockers list | What are beta blockers? | How they work | Uses | Types | Who can take beta blockers? | Safety | Side effects | Costs

If you have high blood pressure (hypertension), you are not alone—this common condition affects almost half of the adult population of the United States. If dietary changes and exercise have not lowered your blood pressure, your doctor may prescribe a blood pressure medication. 

Beta blockers are commonly prescribed medications that lower blood pressure. Usually, an internist or a cardiologist (doctor of cardiology) prescribes beta blockers. Continue reading to learn about how beta blockers work, how they treat your conditions, and what side effects you can expect.

List of beta blockers

Drug name Average cash price SingleCare savings Learn more
Betapace (sotalol) $163 for 60, 80 mg tablets Get sotalol coupons Sotalol details
Bystolic (nebivolol) $265 for 30, 10 mg tablets Get Bystolic coupons Bystolic details
Coreg, Coreg CR (carvedilol) $162 for 60, 6.25 mg tablets Get carvedilol coupons Carvedilol details
Corgard (nadolol) $105 for 30, 20 mg tablets Get nadolol coupons Nadolol details
Inderal, Inderal LA (propranolol) $83 for 60, 20 mg tablets Get propranolol coupons Propranolol details
Lopressor (metoprolol tartrate) $20 for 60, 25 mg tablets Get metoprolol tartrate coupons Metoprolol tartrate details
Normodyne, Trandate (labetalol) $52 for 60, 100 mg tablets Get labetalol coupons Labetalol details
Sectral (acebutolol) $31 for 30, 200 mg capsules Get acebutolol coupons Acebutolol details
Tenormin (atenolol) $100 for 90, 50 mg tablets Get atenolol coupons Atenolol details
Toprol XL (metoprolol succinate ER) $41 for 30, 50 mg tablets Get metoprolol succinate ER coupons Metoprolol succinate ER details
Visken (pindolol) $158 for 30, 5 mg tablets Get pindolol coupons Pindolol details
Zebeta (bisoprolol) $59 for 30, 5 mg tablets Get bisoprolol coupons Bisoprolol details

Other beta blockers

What are beta blockers?

Beta blockers are a class of medications that treat high blood pressure, heart failure, abnormal heart rhythms, and angina (chest pain). They’re sometimes used in patients who have had a heart attack, to prevent a future heart attack, and improve survival. Each beta blocker is approved by the FDA. Beta blockers are most commonly available in the form of immediate-release or extended-release tablets or capsules.

How do beta blockers work?

Beta blockers, or beta-adrenergic blocking agents, bind to beta receptors, called beta-adrenoreceptors. The medication prevents norepinephrine and epinephrine from binding to these receptors. By doing so, the beta blocker prevents stimulation of the heart and lowers heart rate, cardiac contractility (the ability of the heart muscle to contract), and speed of conduction. This also decreases the demand for oxygen and increases exercise tolerance. Beta blockers may be used alone or in combination with other medications, depending on the indication and the patient’s medical history.

What are beta blockers used for?

Beta blockers can treat a variety of conditions, based on the specific indication of each drug, including:

Types of beta blockers 

Beta blockers fall into several groups: 

Nonselective beta blockers

These affect beta-1 and beta-2 receptors. Nonselective beta blockers should be used cautiously (or not at all) in patients who smoke or have asthma or lung problems. Examples include propranolol, nadolol, timolol, and pindolol.

Cardioselective beta blockers

These block only the beta-1 receptors in the heart and do not affect beta-2 receptors in the lungs or blood vessels. So, they are safer for people with lung problems. Examples include atenolol, metoprolol, betaxolol, bisoprolol, acebutolol, and nebivolol. 

Another beta blocker is called Brevibloc (esmolol). This beta blocker is given by injection. Brevibloc is used to rapidly control ventricular rate in emergency situations, and also for short-term treatment of tachycardia (fast heart rate) and hypertension during or after surgery.

Third-generation beta blockers

Some beta blockers have other actions, such as blocking alpha receptors, and/or generating nitric oxide to help the blood vessels relax. Examples include labetalol, carvedilol, and Bystolic. 

Other beta blockers

Also, there are beta blockers that are not in a category but are officially beta blockers. For example, glaucoma eye drops include the beta blockers timolol (brand name Timoptic, Timoptic XE), carteolol (Ocupress), and betaxolol (Betoptic). 

Who can take beta blockers?

Beta blockers can be prescribed to children and adults, provided that the warnings listed below do not apply. 

In children, the drug selection and dosage depend on the child’s age, condition, and other individual factors. 

Women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant should consult their healthcare provider about the use of beta blockers in pregnancy. 

Many older adults also take beta blockers. Often, the doctor will start a beta blocker at a lower dose in older adults. 

RELATED: Signs of a heart problem

Are beta blockers safe?

Beta blockers should not be used if you have persistently severe bradycardia, second-degree or third-degree heart block, overt cardiac failure, or cardiogenic shock. Do not use a beta blocker if you are allergic to beta blockers. 

Monitor blood pressure and heart rate while taking a beta blocker.

If you have diabetes, beta blockers may mask symptoms of low blood sugar, such as a fast heartbeat. Ask your doctor for guidance. 

Tell your doctor if you have any medical conditions, especially if you smoke, or have lung problems like asthma or COPD. Also, tell your doctor if you have kidney or liver problems. Inform your doctor about all of the medications you take, including prescriptions, OTC, and vitamins. 

Beta blockers may temporarily affect cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Your doctor will monitor your cholesterol levels. 

If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, your doctor will weigh the risk factors and benefits of a beta blocker. There is a varying degree of risk with different beta blockers. If you are already taking a beta blocker and find out that you are pregnant, consult your healthcare provider. 

Do not stop taking a beta blocker without consulting your doctor for medical advice. Stopping a beta blocker, especially abruptly, can be associated with complications.

Can you take beta blockers while pregnant or breastfeeding?

Consult your healthcare provider for medical advice about taking beta blockers while pregnant or breastfeeding. Your doctor will only prescribe a beta blocker if the benefits clearly outweigh the risks. 

Are beta blockers controlled substances?

No, beta blockers are not controlled substances.

Common beta blockers side effects

The most common side effects of beta blockers are:

  • Cold hands and feet
  • Constipation 
  • Depression
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth, skin, and eyes 
  • Erectile dysfunction 
  • Lightheadedness
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Nausea 
  • Shortness of breath
  • Slow heartbeat (bradycardia)
  • Trouble sleeping 
  • Weight gain 

Allergic reactions to beta blockers are rare. If you experience hives, difficulty breathing, or swelling of the lips, tongue, or face, seek emergency medical treatment.

Other side effects may occur. Talk to your doctor about what side effects to expect and how to address them. 

How much do beta blockers cost?

Beta blockers range in price from $20 to $265. Opting for a generic beta blocker will save a significant amount of money over the brand-name alternative (and is more likely to be covered by insurance). If you want to save money on your beta blocker, use a free SingleCare coupon to save money (up to 80%) on your prescriptions and refills.