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How do Beta Blockers Work?

written by: weborglodge • edited by: lrohner • updated: 2/23/2011

How do beta blockers work is one question you may ask your health care provider if you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure and certain forms of heart disease. Though not always the first choice, beta blockers are effective for controlling blood pressure.

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    Beta Blockers and Your Nervous System

    While your heart and circulatory system benefit from taking beta blockers, it is actually your nerves that are directly affected by the beta blockers effects for reducing high blood pressure. There are two types of beta receptors associated with your circulatory system. Beta-1 acts on your heart.

    Beta blockers relieve some of the workload of your heart by blocking the effects of adrenaline on certain nerve receptors in your body. The result is a reduction in the rate and force of your heart beats. Because it beats slower, less blood flows through your heart and its need for oxygen is diminished.

    Another effect of beta blockers involves your smooth muscle and the second type of beta receptor, beta-2. You cannot control the movements of your smooth muscles like you can your skeletal muscles. All control is involuntary. Beta blockers help treat high blood pressure or hypertension by relaxing the smooth muscles of your blood vessels, allowing them to relax and dilate and thus improve blood flow. This fact makes it a possible treatment for migraines as well.

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    Types of Beta Blockers

    If you have respiratory conditions such as allergies and asthma, it is important to know the types of beta blockers in order to prevent potential drug interactions or side effects. How do beta blockers work in regards to the respiratory system?

    One side effect of beta blockers is wheezing or shortness of breath. Of course, if you are already taking medication for chronic bronchitis, for example, you would not want to take a non-selective beta blocker to avoid the risk of these side effects and worsening your condition. This type of beta blocker will act on any smooth muscle of your blood vessels, including those of your respiratory system.

    These patients should use a selective beta blocker which specifically acts on the forces within your heart, rather than your entire body. Make sure and tell your doctor all medications and supplements that you take in order to prescribe the best medication for you. The use of beta blockers is widespread, with several prescription medications available.

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    Side Effects of Beta Blockers

    How do beta blockers work on other parts of your body? Because your blood vessels open up when on beta blockers, there are certain common side effects of which you want to be aware. A common one is cold feet and hands.

    These medications reduce your circulation so your extremities do not benefit from the warmed blood circulating through them at the same rate or responding as quickly when you feel cold or chilled. For this reason, you will want to dress warmly and take precautions when outdoors during the winter. Likewise, you may experience dizziness or lightheadedness while on beta blockers due to the reduction in blood pressure. You may want to take care when getting up, especially when you first wake up.

    Beta blockers are not the first choice for treating high blood pressure. Though highly effective, typically, other types of medications such as diuretics or ACE inhibitors are used first due to the less serious side effects. A patient on beta blockers will likely stay on this blood pressure medication for the rest of his life. Abruptly stopping beta blockers increases the risk for heart attacks.

    Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Beta blockers are one drug in your doctor's arsenal to treat this deadly condition. Beta blockers along with a good diet and maintaining a healthy weight can reduce your risk of heart disease and improve your cardiovascular health.

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    Reference

    Center for Disease Control and Prevention: February is American Heart Month – cdc.gov

    Medicine Net: Beta Blockers—Oral – medicinenet.com