What You Need To Know If You Are Taking Beta Blockers
Written by Eli Ben-YehudaOn February 27, 2019
High blood pressure is a common condition in which the long-term force of the blood against your artery walls is high enough that it may eventually cause health problems, such as heart disease.
Blood pressure is determined both by the amount of blood your heart pumps and the amount of resistance to blood flow in your arteries. The more blood your heart pumps and the narrower your arteries, the higher your blood pressure.
You can have high blood pressure (hypertension) for years without any symptoms. Even without symptoms, damage to blood vessels and your heart continues and can be detected. Uncontrolled high blood pressure increases your risk of serious health problems, including heart attack and stroke.
High blood pressure generally develops over many years, and it affects nearly everyone eventually. Fortunately, high blood pressure can be easily detected. And once you know you have high blood pressure, you can work with your doctor to control it.
One way your physician may try to control your hypertension may be by prescribing you a beta blocker medication for you to take.
What Is a Beta Blocker?
The first beta blocker ever to be used was developed in 1964 by Pharmacologist James Black. Dr. Black won the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology for his development of this medication. It was called Propranolol and is still used today.
Beta blockers are medicines that work by temporarily stopping or reducing the body’s natural ‘fight-or-flight’ responses.
Beta blockers are prescribed for conditions ranging from high blood pressure and glaucoma to anxiety attacks and migraines. They are primarily prescribed to help control hypertension and abnormal heart rhythms but are also widely prescribed to prevent further heart problems in patients who’ve had heart attacks or who are suffering from heart failure.
Because beta blockers are so versatile, they are especially helpful for heart patients who often have multiple conditions, such as hypertension plus angina, says Dr. Andrew Eisenhauer, a cardiologist and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School.
Whether beta blockers are best suited to help you lower your blood pressure will depend on the particulars of your cardiovascular health and other medical conditions. Each type of antihypertensive drug works a little differently (see chart) and for many patients with high blood pressure, a combination of medications is necessary.
How Do Beta Blockers Work?
Beta blockers “block” the effects of adrenaline on your body’s beta receptors. This slows the nerve impulses that travel through the heart. As a result, your heart does not have to work as hard because it needs less blood and oxygen. Beta blockers also block the impulses that can cause an arrhythmia.
Your body has 2 main beta receptors: beta 1 and beta 2.
Some beta blockers are selective, which means that they block beta 1 receptors more than they block beta 2 receptors. Beta 1 receptors are responsible for heart rate and the strength of your heartbeat.
Nonselective beta blockers block both beta 1 and beta 2 receptors. Beta 2 receptors are responsible for the function of your smooth muscles (muscles that control body functions but that you do not have control over).
What Foods Should You Avoid When Taking a Beta Blocker?
Like any medication, you should read all of the information provided to you by your physician and avoid any other medications, foods or beverages that can interact with the drug and/or reduce its effectiveness.
High Sodium Foods: Like high-fat foods, high sodium foods cause the heart to work harder. If you are on beta blockers due to high blood pressure, salt is especially a bad idea as it contributes to high blood pressure. Foods that are usually high in salt include canned soups, pre-packaged seasonings, foods containing MSG, diet soda, and softened water. Your physician can assist you in planning a low-sodium diet plan.
Fatty Foods: Avoid fatty foods while on beta blockers because over time they increase the heart’s workload, states Dr. Paul Barney, author of “Doctor’s Guide to Natural Medicine.” You should especially avoid deep-fried foods, high cholesterol foods, and saturated fats. Emphasize foods containing monounsaturated fats such as those found in olive oil and almonds. While some fat is necessary for your diet, choose fats that will not contribute, or contribute less, to heart disease.
Other Foods and Drinks to Consider
High Potassium Foods: You should avoid foods that are high in potassium because beta blockers can limit the uptake of potassium from the bloodstream, according to Dr. James Balch, author of “Prescription for Drug Alternatives.” High potassium foods include papaya, bananas, prunes, cantaloupe, raisins, oranges, and pears. You should also avoid salt substitutes, according to Balch, because they tend to be high in potassium. Because beta blockers function in slightly different ways, ask your physician if you can eat any high potassium foods and if so, in what portion size.
Caffeine Products: The anti-anxiety effects of beta blockers can be reduced by heavy caffeine intake, as caffeine has the potential to increase anxiety overall. Specifically, caffeine may interact with the beta blockers propranolol and metoprolol, causing an increase in blood pressure.
Propranolol and metoprolol are commonly prescribed to treat heart disease and high blood pressure. Talk to your doctor about appropriate caffeine intake while you are on beta blockers. The Texas Heart Institute notes that you should avoid drinking or be eating caffeinated foods, drinks or prescriptions while on beta blockers.
The Effects of Beta Blockers on Exercise
In case of heart patients, beta blockers put a cap on the maximum heart rate and therefore, it does put restrictions on their exercise and stamina. It may be difficult to exercise at the start after you have started your first course of these drugs. Slowly, you must learn to cope up with it. Selective beta blockers generally do not cause, as much of a problem, as non-selective ones. Understand the limits of your stamina and exercise accordingly.
If you have been monitoring the degree of exertion achieved during a cardiovascular exercise routine, by monitoring the heart rate, you may have to consider measuring that in a different way, as your heart rate will not be a very good indicator anymore, due to the threshold limit set by beta blockers. Consult your doctor and plan a different exercise regimen, which is compatible with your modified condition.
What Are Beta Blockers Side Effects?
Common side effects of beta blockers are nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and weight gain if you are taking medicine for diabetes (type 1 and type 2). There are other important side effects and serious adverse effects of this drug class that includes, blurred vision, insomnia, hair loss, disorientation, CNS system effects, and serious heart problems. Beta blockers interact with several other drugs, for example, chlorpromazine (Thorazine), clonidine (Catapres), Phenobarbital, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) including aspirin, and diabetes medications, including insulin.
Other beta blockers side effects include but are not limited to:
- Stomach cramps
Other important side effects include:
- Blurred vision
- Hair loss
- Muscle cramps
Less Common Side Effects Include
- Shortness of breath
- Wheezing or trouble breathing
- Loss of sex drive/erectile dysfunction
- Trouble sleeping
- Swelling of the hands or feet
- Slow heartbeat
- Skin rash
- A sore throat
- Memory loss or confusion
- Back or joint pain
Beta Blocker Cautions You Should Be Aware of
If you have asthma or diabetes, talk to your doctor before taking a beta blocker. These drugs may trigger a severe asthma attack and can mask signs of low blood sugar. Let your doctor know about all other medical conditions you have before starting on a beta blocker.
Also, tell your doctor about all the medicines you’re taking, especially:
- Other medications for high blood pressure
- Drugs for diabetes (including insulin)
- Medications for asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Allergy shots
- Antacids that contain aluminum
- Over-the-counter (OTC) a cough, cold, or allergy medicines
A Final Note To Our Readers
Beta blockers can also affect your cholesterol and triglyceride levels, causing a slight increase in triglycerides and a modest decrease in high-density lipoprotein, the “good” cholesterol. These changes often are temporary. YOU SHOULD NOT abruptly stop taking a beta blocker because doing so could increase your risk of a heart attack or other heart problems.
If you do need to stop taking a beta blocker then your doctor may advise a gradual reduction in dose. These medicines sometimes react with other medicines that you may take. So, make sure your doctor knows of any other medicines that you are taking, including ones that you have bought rather than been prescribed.
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