Why Take a Beta Blocker?

Medical Author: Melissa Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel, Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

Beta blockers are a common class of prescription drugs that counteract the stimulatory effects of adrenaline (epinephrine) on what are called the beta receptors. These receptors are found in many tissues of the body including the nervous system and heart. When beta receptors are stimulated, the heart beats faster and harder and the blood vessels constrict, resulting in an elevation of blood pressure. If the coronary arteries are narrowed by atherosclerosis, the increased burden on the heart can cause inadequate oxygen delivery to the heart muscle (myocardium) itself, leading to the chest pain and other symptoms of angina pectoris.

Beta blockers act by suppressing these stimulatory impulses and lead to a slowing of the pulse rate and a reduction in blood pressure. By reducing the workload of the heart, they can also relieve symptoms of angina pectoris.

Beta blockers are prescribed as treatments for high blood pressure and have been shown to improve survival when administered following a heart attack.