Beta-blockers, also known as beta-adrenoceptor blocking agents, are medications used to treat conditions such as angina, heart failure and high blood pressure.

They decrease the activity of the heart by blocking the action of hormones like adrenaline.

Beta-blockers are prescription-only medicines (POMS), which means they can only be prescribed by a GP or other suitably qualified healthcare professional.

When are beta-blockers used?

Beta-blockers may be used to treat:

  • angina  chest pain caused by narrowings of the arteries supplying the heart 
  • heart failure  failure of the heart to pump enough blood around the body 
  • atrial fibrillation  irregular heartbeat 
  • heart attack  an emergency where the blood supply to the heart is suddenly blocked
  • high blood pressure – when other medicines have been tried

Read more about the uses of beta-blockers.

Less commonly, beta-blockers are used to prevent migraine or treat:

There are several types of beta-blocker, and each one has its own characteristics. The type prescribed for you will depend on your condition.

Things to consider

There are several things to consider before taking beta-blockers.

Make sure you tell your doctor if you have a history of:

Your GP can advice you about which medicine to use if you're pregnant or breastfeeding. It's important not to stop taking beta-blockers without seeking your GP's advice. In some cases, suddenly stopping the medicine may make your condition worse.

Ask your GP or pharmacist if you're not sure whether other medicines are safe to take with beta-blockers.

Read more about how beta-blockers interact with other medicines.

You may experience side effects while taking beta-blockers, including:

  • dizziness
  • tiredness
  • blurred vision
  • cold hands and feet
  • slow heartbeat
  • diarrhoea and nausea

Less common side effects include:

Missed or extra doses

With the exception of special beta-blockers for use during pregnancy, and Sotalol which is given twice or three times a day, most beta-blockers are taken once a day.

If you forget to take a dose of beta-blockers, follow the general advice below:

  • If it's more than eight hours from your next dose, take the dose you missed.
  • If it's less than eight hours from your next dose, you can skip it, but make sure you take the next dose.

If you're not sure what to do about your dose, check the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine. It should include advice about what to do.

Contact your GP or call NHS 111 for further information and advice about beta-blockers and dosages.

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