By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Beta blockers are medications that are commonly used to treat various types of heart conditions as well as some other illnesses.
Some of the uses of beta blockers include:
Beta blockers are one of the most important drugs used today in heart failure. Studies have shown that the use of beta blockers can reduce the risk of death due to heart failure by 30% and the risk of hospitalization by 40%. Among patients with chronic or long-term heart failure, there is a 38% reduction in the risk of sudden death. Examples of beta blockers that are useful in heart failure include carvedilol, bisoprolol, nebivolol and long-acting metoprolol.
After an acute myocardial infarction or heart attack
Beta blockers such as carvedilol and netoprolol can reduce the risk of further heart attack and death. These agents are of particular benefit in high risk patients who have ongoing cardiac ischemia or left ventricular dysfunction.
Chronic stable angina
In patients with this condition, there is a lack of blood supply (ischemia) to the heart muscles which leads to chest pain, especially during exertion. Beta-blockers help by reducing the myocardial oxygen demand and heart rate. A specific form of angina called Prinzmetal's angina should not be treated with nonselective beta-blockers, as these agents can aggravate the condition.
Heart rhythm abnormalities or arrhythmias
Some beta-blockers can be used to treat arrhythmias and examples include sotalol, esmolol and propranolol. In patients who have had a heart attack, beta blockers are superior to other anti-arrhythmic agents. They are especially useful in cases of arrhythmia that involve the ventricles and can reduce the risk of cardiac death from ventricular arrhythmia. Beta-blockers are also effective in the treatment of an inherited arrhythmia called Long QT syndrome 1 (LQTS 1).
Hypertension or high blood pressure
Beta blockers are used to treat high blood pressure and are a particularly effective therapy in hypertensive individuals with angina or who have suffered a heart attack. They also reduce the risk of coronary heart disease events and stroke.
Hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy
Beta blockers are the first drug of choice for patients with this condition.
Patients with mitral stenosis, a narrowing of the opening between the left atrium and the left ventricle, benefit from beta blocker therapy.
Propranolol is used to treat symptoms of anxiety such as facial blushing, sweating and palpitations.
Propranolol is also effective in severely overactive thyroid (thyrotoxicosis).
Agents such as timolol, betaxolol, carteolol, levobunolol and metipranolol are used to treat the eye condition glaucoma.
Propranolol is used as a preventive agent in migraine.
Beta blockers are also used to reduce the risk of bleeding in patients with chronic liver disease and portal hypertension complicated by oesophageal varices.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc