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Written by Healthwords's team of doctors and pharmacists based in UK | Updated: 24.02.2023 | 2 min read

Beta-blockers are a type of prescription medication that is used to reduce the activity of the heart. Primarily they come as tablets or capsules for most conditions, but they are also available as eye drops and liquid preparations, depending on their intended use.

What do they treat?

Beta-blockers can be used for several different conditions due to the nature of the medication. However, they are primarily used to treat heart conditions, such as angina, heart failure, atrial fibrillation, and high blood pressure. Less common conditions include preventing migraines, anxiety, and glaucoma.

They are only available via prescription, so you need to have a consultation with a doctor to ensure suitability. There are several types of beta-blockers, and each one has its own characteristics and benefits. The kind prescribed for you will depend on your health condition and any other medications you take or other conditions you have.

How do they work?

Beta-blockers may work by slowing the heart rate. They do this by blocking the action of hormones like adrenaline, which allows the main pumping chamber of the heart to fill more completely.

Some of these medicines may also help open or widen blood vessels in the body. This makes them especially useful in some people with certain forms of heart failure who may also have high blood pressure or in migraines where they get to work on blood vessels leading to the brain.

Similarly, in glaucoma, they work on the blood vessels surrounding the eye, reducing the pressure in the eye.

Should anyone avoid taking them?

Beta-blockers should usually be avoided in patients with a history of asthma due to a risk of lung spasms. Also, be careful if you have low blood pressure, as they can reduce your blood pressure further.

Beta-blockers, including eye drops, can interact with other medicines, altering their effects. Therefore it is always best to check with your doctor or pharmacist before starting a new medication.

Are there any side effects?

Most people taking beta-blockers have either no or very mild side effects that become less troublesome with time. Contact your doctor if you're having symptoms that bother you or last more than a few days.

Common side effects include feeling tired, dizzy, or lightheaded, having cold fingers and toes, having difficulty sleeping, or having nightmares. Feeling out of breath is another possibility – if this occurs, stop taking your medication and seek medical advice.

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