Beta-blockers are a type of medication known for temporarily blocking the hormone adrenaline, often known as the “fight or flight response”, from being released throughout the body.
Widely considered to be a safe medication for most people, they’re prescribed to help ease the symptoms of conditions including situational anxiety, tremors, and even some heart conditions.
Here we’ll walk through what beta-blockers are, what they’re used for, and who they might help.
What are beta-blockers?
Beta-blockers are a class of medication that prevents the chemical norepinephrine, or adrenaline, from being released throughout the body. They’re often used to control heart rate, reduce high blood pressure, and minimize physical symptoms of anxiety or stress on the body.
Are beta-blockers FDA approved?
Yes, beta-blockers have been approved by the FDA to treat several conditions including angina (chest pain), heart failure, and high blood pressure.
However, doctors are able to prescribe any approved medications for reasons other than what the FDA has approved them for, what’s known as off-label prescribing.
Beta-blockers, in particular, are often prescribed off-label for several different uses.
What are their off-label uses?
Some of the most common off-label uses of beta-blockers include the following:
Performance Anxiety is an extreme nervousness around a specific event taking in place in front of others. Examples include public speaking, auditioning, interviews, tests, and other high-pressure moments. Beta-blockers work by blocking the physiological response to that anxiety, preventing physical symptoms like sweaty palms, shaky voice, racing heart, and more from getting in your way.
Essential Tremor causes uncontrollable shaking in the hands, arms, voice, chin, and other parts of the body as a result of nerve damage. Beta-blockers are believed to help by blocking nerve impulses, which minimize the shaking and give greater movement control back to the person.
Migraines are recurring headaches that are often accompanied by other uncomfortable symptoms like nausea and dizziness. Beta-blockers can help relieve headache pain by relaxing the blood vessels that tighten up and allow for more blood flow.
Glaucoma is a condition where increased pressure in your eye causes damage to your optic nerve, causing your eyesight to get worse. Beta-blockers can help slow down this damage by decreasing the amount of fluids in the eye which decreases the pressure causing that damage.
Hyperthyroidism happens when your thyroid gland is overactive. This can accelerate your metabolism and causes symptoms like unintended weight loss and an irregular heartbeat. Beta-blockers can ease a lot of the symptoms that are caused by hyperthyroidism, including a racing heart.
Fibromyalgia is a nerve disorder that causes intense pain in the muscles and bones throughout the body. Beta-blockers have been shown to decrease the intensity of the pain experienced.
Are beta-blockers safe?
Beta-blockers are generally considered a safe medication. They are not a controlled substance and are non-addictive.
However, just as with any prescription drug, they aren’t the right choice for everyone.
Inform your doctor if you’re being treated for any of the following conditions before starting a Propranolol prescription:
- Bradycardia (lower than normal heart rate)
- Heart failure
- Heart block
- Severe chest pain
- Hyperactive thyroid
- Chronic bronchitis or emphysema
- Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome or other heart arrhythmias
It’s important for anyone to consult with a doctor before trying beta-blockers to make sure it’s a safe choice for them.
Do beta-blockers have any side effects?
Beta blockers are usually well tolerated. Though rare, propranolol can cause side effects, some of which include:
- Slowed heart rate
- Hair loss
- Dry eyes
- Weakness or fatigue
- Breathing problems
- Changes in blood pressure
How can I try beta-blockers?
Propranolol is a prescription medication and you must speak with a doctor first.
You can speak with either your primary care doctor or a psychiatrist about a prescription. Alternatively, you can start an online visit today with one of our board-certified doctors to learn whether or not they’re the right option for you.
Reviewed by Dr. Alex Dimitriu
Dr. Alex Dimitriu is a Stanford-trained physician with dual board certification in psychiatry and sleep medicine. The included content is not intended to replace medical advice. Always be sure to discuss any prescription medications with your doctor.