What Are The Side Effects of Beta Blockers?

People are often prescribed different kinds of medications to manage their health problems and improve their overall quality of life. 

Regardless of its class or purpose, every medication carries a risk of side effects. Some medications have mild adverse reactions, whereas others can cause serious problems. 

This post focuses on the side effects of beta-blockers. Read on to learn more about the side effects they cause and natural beta blocker alternatives to consider. 

What are beta-blockers?

Beta-adrenergic blocking agents, known as beta-blockers, are medications that work by preventing the hormone epinephrine or adrenaline from binding to the beta receptor. Besides selective beta-blocker, a patient may get a prescription for a nonselective beta-blocker.

These medications block the action of stress-inducing hormones to slow down the heart. 

In most cases, beta-blockers are prescribed for heart-related conditions such as:

Additionally, beta-blockers are often prescribed to manage glaucoma, migraine, anxiety, overactive thyroid, and essential tremor.

The doctor may prescribe a cardioselective beta-blocker in combination with other medications such as ACE inhibitors. Cardioselective beta-blockers are also combined with diuretics, calcium channel blockers, among others. 

The greatest contribution to the development of beta-blockers came from Sir James Black, a Scottish physician and pharmacologist. In 1958, Sir Black developed the first beta-blocker to treat heart disease

Common side effects of beta blockers

Beta receptors are located all over the body. The beta 1 receptors are primarily found in your heart muscle, kidneys, and fat cells. For that reason, beta-blocker medication can cause a wide range of side effects. 

The most commonly reported adverse effects include:

Poor blood flow

Your heart beats more slowly on beta-blockers, which also makes it more difficult for blood to reach arms and legs. For that reason, a person on beta-blockers may notice their hands and feet are cold.

Erectile dysfunction (ED)

Erectile dysfunction happens due to the effect of beta-blockers on blood flow. Impaired blood flow also disrupts proper erectile function. As a result, many men tend to struggle with erection-related problems.

Weight gain

This is usually caused by older beta-blockers. The exact reason behind this side effect is unknown, but it could be associated with how these drugs affect metabolism. 

Bradycardia (slower than normal heart rate)

The risk of this side effect increases with older age. These drugs cause bradycardia by antagonizing the activity of catecholamines that sympathetic nerves produce at the cell receptor. Basically, beta-blockers can cause bradycardia due to their intended mechanism of action, which is to inhibit the release of stress hormones. 

Hypotension (low blood pressure)

Since beta-blockers slow down heart rate, they may lead to low blood pressure

Fatigue and dizziness

The anti-adrenaline effects of beta-blockers can also make a person feel tired and dizzy. 

It’s practical to get informed about all consequences of taking this medication before you use it. Asking a pharmacist is also a good idea.

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Severe side effects of beta blockers

In some cases, beta-blockers can cause severe side effects. They include the following:

Difficulty breathing

This happens because the drugs can cause lung muscle spasms. This side effect is more common among persons with lung conditions. Sometimes difficulty breathing or shortness of breath is accompanied by a cough that worsens with activity.

Hyperglycemia (high blood glucose levels)

This occurs in persons with diabetes. Beta-blockers can induce hyperglycemia by inhibiting the release of insulin through the pancreatic beta-receptor blockade. Speaking of blood sugar, it’s also useful to mention that beta-blockers can conceal symptoms of hypoglycemia or low blood sugar.

Depression

Some, especially older, beta-blockers can lead to depression but it’s unclear why. Patients may also experience drowsiness, anxiety, insomnia, nightmares, and hallucinations. In other words, beta-blockers could have a strong impact on a person’s mental health and wellbeing. 

Other serious side effects

Besides the abovementioned serious adverse reactions, beta-blockers can also cause swollen ankles or legs, chest pain, wheezing, tightening feeling in the chest, and jaundice.

Make sure to seek emergency medicine department attention if you experience the signs of heart, liver, or lung problems caused by beta-blockers. Heart problems include chest pain, lung problems manifest themselves through breathing difficulties, whereas jaundice is a sign of a liver issue. 

8 natural alternatives to beta-blockers

Medications aren’t always the only route to manage a certain health problem. It’s also important to have a healthy lifestyle and consider natural alternatives to these medications. 

Natural alternatives to beta-blockers include the following: 

1. Antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables 

Antioxidants neutralize free radicals and reduce oxidative stress and damage it would cause. They can also prevent inflammatory conditions and manage high blood pressure. Antioxidant foods worth including in your diet include berries, kale, beetroot, among others.

2. Celery 

Celery could work like beta-blockers for lowering blood pressure, i.e., celery could reduce levels of adrenaline and noradrenaline. 

This vegetable may also decrease the force necessary to pump blood through the blood vessel in the body, thus alleviating stress on the heart.

3. Pulses 

The potassium, plant protein, and fiber content of dietary pulses could lower blood pressure. Good examples of pulses are chickpeas, lentils, and beans. 

4. Garlic 

Garlic is known for its potential to support heart health and reduce blood pressure thanks to its active compound allicin.

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5. Hibiscus 

Hibiscus increases nitric oxide production and opens potassium channels to reduce blood pressure. Plus, it also acts as a diuretic. It’s also useful to mention nitric oxide is necessary for strong erections.

6. Saffron 

Relaxes and dilates blood vessels. The improved blood flow can reduce blood pressure.

7. Omega-3 fatty acids

They are well-known for their ability to protect the heart against cardiovascular diseases. Good sources of Omega-3s are salmon, trout, and herring. 

The American Heart Association and British Heart Foundation recommend eating fish rich in Omega-3 fatty acids at least once a week.

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8. L-arginine 

L-arginine is an amino acid responsible for nitric oxide production. You can find l-arginine in meat, poultry, nuts, and seeds, but also dietary supplements. 

Besides the abovementioned, other natural alternatives to beta-blockers include potassium-rich foods, vitamin B6, leafy green vegetables, bananas, and low-fat dairy products.

Conclusion

Beta-blockers are frequently prescribed, but they can cause various side effects. Some adverse reactions can be severe and involve problems with the heart, liver, and lungs. 

Modifying your diet with natural alternatives to beta-blockers is a good way to obtain their benefits without adverse reactions. Make sure to ask your doctor for medical advice first and express your concerns regarding the use of medications and beta-blocker therapy for your heart condition.

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Sources

  1. Farzam K, Jan A. Beta Blockers. [Updated 2021 Dec 13]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK532906/
  2. Baker JG, Hill SJ, Summers RJ. Evolution of β-blockers: from anti-anginal drugs to ligand-directed signalling. Trends Pharmacol Sci. 2011;32(4):227-234. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3081074/
  3. Lu HT, Kam J, Nordin RB, et al. Beta-blocker use and risk of symptomatic bradyarrhythmias: a hospital-based case-control study. J Geriatr Cardiol. 2016;13(9):749-759. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5122500/
  4. Blackburn DF, Wilson TW. Antihypertensive medications and blood sugar: theories and implications. Can J Cardiol. 2006. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2528930/
  5. Kizhakekuttu TJ, Widlansky ME. Natural antioxidants and hypertension: promise and challenges. Cardiovasc Ther. 2010. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2905473/
  6. Al Disi SS, Anwar MA, Eid AH. Anti-hypertensive Herbs and their Mechanisms of Action: Part I. Front Pharmacol. 2016;6:323. Published 2016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4717468/
  7. Jayalath VH, de Souza RJ, Sievenpiper JL, et al. Effect of dietary pulses on blood pressure: a systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled feeding trials. Am J Hypertens. 2014. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5391775/

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