What You Should Know About Beta Blockers

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These medications protect the heart and should also be strictly monitored. 

As with any medication, asking your doctor and pharmacists the crucial questions about beta blockers will help with their safety and effectiveness.
As with any medication, asking your doctor and pharmacists the crucial questions about beta blockers will help with their safety and effectiveness.

With American Heart Month in full swing, you may be hearing more about beta blockers and how they help heart patients thrive. While that is certainly true, they also must be prescribed and monitored with great care.

Andy Wright, a Registered Pharmacist with Renown Rehabilitation Hospital, details what beta blockers do to the body and what to watch for when taking these medicines.

What They Do
Beta blockers are primarily used for an irregular or rapid heart rate (also known as atrial fibrillation, or AFib) and hypertension. They are also increasingly used for anxiety and stress, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Wright says beta blockers are cardio-protective, helping to lessen the effect of adrenaline on the heart.  This means that beta blockers slow a high heart rate and reduce blood pressure to regular, even levels.

“As a joke, pharmacists may call these ‘The LOL Sisters,’ because their names end in LOL,” Wright explains. The brand names most people would know are Lopressor (metoprolol), Tenormin (atenolol) and Inderal (propranolol).

What to Watch For
If a person already has a low heart rate or blood pressure, beta blockers should not be prescribed.

“In our hospital, when we give a beta blocker, we carefully monitor the heart rate and blood pressure,” Wright says. “What we look at as being a slow heart rate is below 60, and we look at the systolic blood pressure at 105 or less.”

The systolic number is the “top” one usually given when you get it checked, as in 110/70.

There is also an increased risk for falls and dizziness for some, as the beta blocker may make it more difficult to respond to changes in movement or posture.

“That’s not as likely to happen, but it’s something to keep in consideration, so at first we have the patient go slower from sitting down to standing up, as one example,” Wright adds.

Diabetics should also be in tune with the effects of beta blockers. Wright said that one signal for a diabetics to know their blood sugar is low is a sweaty or shaky feeling. That is the effect of adrenaline telling you something is wrong, a symptom that a beta blocker might mask.

If a patient with a respiratory disorder also has to take a beta blocker, the mix of those medications with “beta agonist” inhalers, such as albuterol that commonly get prescribed for breathing disorders, may cause people to not get the full benefit of these medications.

What Can You Do?
As with any medication, thoroughly asking questions of your doctor and pharmacist is the way to go with beta blockers. Key facts to get include reactions with other medicines, what happens if you miss a dose and potential side effects and what to do if they occur.

“In each relationship we have with a medical provider, regardless of the role or title, it is a collaboration,” Wright states. “The physician or medical provider, the pharmacist and the patient all operate in the same circle and that is to better the patient’s health and well being.”

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