A doctor may recommend a beta-blocker for heart failure. These medications help reduce stress on the heart by slowing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and relaxing the heart muscles. They also relax the blood vessels, so the heart does not have to work as hard to pump blood.

A doctor may also recommend beta-blockers for other heart conditions, such as high blood pressure, arrhythmias, coronary artery disease, and portal hypertension. Treating these conditions may help reduce the risk of heart failure.

While beta-blockers can be the first line of defense against many heart-health issues, they can also cause some side effects and complications. It is important for people to talk with a doctor about all their symptoms and discuss the risks and benefits of treatment.

This article explains how beta-blockers can help with heart failure and other conditions such as high blood pressure. It will also detail the types, side effects, and how to take them.

medications shaped like a heartShare on Pinterest
Sean Locke/Stocksy

Treating heart failure early on can improve the chance of survival. Beta-blockers work by blocking one or more beta receptors, which exist in three forms:

  • beta-1 (B1)
  • beta-2 (B2)
  • beta-3 (B3)

Blocking these receptors reduces the effects of epinephrine on a person’s body. This causes blood vessels to relax and slows the heart. It can also ease anxiety.

Help treat angina

Angina can occur for many reasons. Decreasing the oxygen demands of the body can help the heart work less hard and reduce angina pain.

Beta-blockers can work by:

  • lowering blood pressure
  • helping the heart muscle relax
  • slowing the heart rate
  • reducing pressure on the heart that can cause pain

Help treat rhythm disorders

Certain heart arrhythmias, such as atrial fibrillation, or A-fib, increase the risk of heart failure. Beta-blockers can slow down the heart, preventing the rapid palpitations of A-fib and reducing damage to the heart muscle.

Help manage blood pressure

Beta-blockers reduce blood pressure by relaxing the blood vessels and reducing the effects of epinephrine on the heart.

This means that the heart does not have to work as hard. Over time, lowering the blood pressure may also lower the stress on the heart, potentially reducing symptoms and complications of heart failure.

Help prevent heart attack

People can develop heart failure after a heart attack. Heart failure also increases the risk of another heart attack.

Beta-blockers help relax the blood vessels. This makes it more difficult for clots to clog the blood vessels, lowering the risk of a heart attack. They can also lower blood pressure, helping to address another heart attack risk factor.

Visit our dedicated cardiovascular health hub for more heart-health information.

Dozens of different beta-blockers can treat heart failure. Each works slightly differently, with a unique side effect profile. Some of the most commonly prescribed beta-blockers include:

Beta-blockers come in several different forms: oral, injectable, topical, and even eye drops. Therefore, no single dosage will apply to all beta-blockers.

In most cases, a person must take an oral beta-blocker daily, around the same time each day. A person should follow the label instructions precisely and inform their doctor if they develop any side effects.

It is important to note that increasing or decreasing the dosage without medical guidance may increase the risk of serious side effects.

The beta receptors that beta-blockers affect play a role in many bodily functions. Therefore, blocking them may affect many different systems in the body. Some side effects may include:

Less commonly, a person may experience serious side effects, including:

The specific side effects vary slightly with different beta-blockers. A person should discuss their health, heart-health risk factors, and treatment goals with a healthcare professional who can help them decide on suitable medication.

People with asthma should not take certain beta-blockers and should inform a doctor. In addition, beta-blockers may not be safe for people with very low blood pressure.

Alcohol and smoking can both decrease the effectiveness of beta-blockers.

Certain medications and substances may interact negatively with beta-blockers. They include:

This is not a complete list — it is important for people to inform a doctor about all medications, including supplements or illegal drugs.

People at risk of heart failure may wish to ask a doctor about preventive treatment options. For example, lowering blood pressure with blood pressure medication may lower the risk in someone with unmanaged hypertension.

Other strategies that can help include:

  • maintaining a moderate weight
  • never smoking
  • getting plenty of regular exercise
  • managing chronic conditions such as diabetes

Read more about how to improve heart health.

Beta-blockers are part of the standard treatment for heart failure. They can also help prevent heart failure in people with a higher risk. While these medications can cause side effects, it is important for a person to keep taking them unless a doctor advises otherwise.

Beta-blockers may lower the risk of worsening heart failure, as well as complications such as a heart attack. Treating heart failure early on can improve the chance of survival.