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Beta-blockers

BMJ Group Medical Reference

Introduction

This information is for people who have anxiety disorder. It tells you about beta-blockers, a treatment sometimes used for anxiety disorder.

Do they work?

We haven't looked at the evidence for this treatment in the same detail as other treatments. (For more information, see Our Method). But we've included some information because you may be interested.

What are they?

Beta-blockers are probably better known as treatments for angina and high blood pressure. But some doctors think that they may help with the symptoms of anxiety. This is because they block the chemicals that cause some of the symptoms of anxiety, such as sweating and palpitations (when you can feel your heart beating faster than normal).

Your doctor may suggest that you take beta-blockers to ease these symptoms. Some common beta-blockers, along with their brand names, include:

All of them come as tablets. Some you take once a day, others twice or three times a day.

What we know

There haven't been any studies of beta-blockers for anxiety disorder, so researchers don't know whether these drugs can help relieve symptoms such as palpitations, sweating, or a dry mouth. Beta-blockers are used as a treatment for anxiety disorder because doctors have noticed that beta-blockers seemed to work for some patients.

Are there any risks?

We don't know if these drugs cause side effects when given as a treatment for anxiety because no studies have looked at these drugs in people with anxiety. But beta-blockers have been used to treat many other conditions. These are the side effects that were found in those studies.

  • Beta-blockers lower your blood pressure. This can make you dizzy if you stand up too fast. You may also get more tired than usual. If your blood pressure gets very low, you may faint. Your doctor will help you avoid these problems by choosing the right dose of beta-blocker for you.

  • If you have a long-term breathing problem, such as asthma or bronchitis, beta-blockers can be dangerous. This is because beta-blockers can cause extra breathing problems. If you have a breathing problem, talk to your doctor about the options.

  • Some men have difficulty getting an erection when they take beta-blockers. This problem can usually be avoided by choosing a newer kind of beta-blocker or taking a lower dose.

  • If you have diabetes, beta-blockers may stop your body from getting signs of low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia), such as a rapid heart rate.

Last Updated: December 17, 2012
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

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