Beta blockers, occasionally written as β-blockers (also called as beta-adrenergic antagonists or beta-adrenergic blocking agents or beta antagonists), are a type of drugs that are used for varied purposes, but mainly for the management of cardiac arrhythmias, cardio protection after hypertension and myocardial infarction (heart attack).
Eli Lilly Laboratories, in 1958, synthesized the very first beta blocker, then called dichloroisoproterenol but its significance was more or less not known much until 1962 when Sir James W. Black found the first clinically important use of beta blockers with pronethalol and propranololwhich took the medical community by storm. While there is significant evidence of effectiveness of beta blockers in curing anxiety from many controlled trials, little has been known on the mechanism of action.
Functioning of Beta Blockers
There are three known kinds of beta receptors, namely, β1, β2 and β3 receptors. Β1-adrenergic receptors are found mainly in the kidneys and in the heart, β2-adrenergic receptors in the uterus, lungs, liver, vascular smooth muscle, gastrointestinal tract and the skeletal muscle while the β3-adrenergic receptors are situated in the fat cells in the human body.
As beta blockers, they minimize the effects of endogenous catecholamines (epinephrine or adrenaline), norepinephrine (noradrenaline) and other stress hormones on β-adrenergic receptors that form a part of the sympathetic nervous system (responsible for mediating the “flight or fight response”) in the human body.
Uses of Beta Blockers for Anxiety
Beta blockers (propranolol, atenolol and pindolo) have been used for performance enhancement, and especially to combat symptoms of performance anxiety (generalized anxiety disorders or GAD characterized by tachycardia and sweating) and panic disorders (pounding heart, cold/clammy hands, increased respiration, sweating, etc.) particularly in musicians, public speakers, actors, professional dancers and the likes during public performances.
Some other common medical conditions where beta blockers are used are high blood pressure, glaucoma and migraine. Since beta blockers have an interaction with blood pressure, they can help reduce the symptoms associated with anxiety.
Despite the positive effects, like in the case of most medications, consumers of beta blockers are subject to risks. Some common side effects identified in patients on low level consumption of beta blockers include but may not be limited to:
- Increased peristalsis in the gastrointestinal tract
- Increase in anxiety (reverse effect)
- Increased blood pressure (reverse effect)
- Light headedness
- Unusually slow pulse
- Cold hands and feet
- Tingling sensation in fingers and toes
However, a comparatively higher dosage of beta blockers can trigger serious side effects. These may include:
- Short term memory loss
- Vivid dreams
- Low heart rate (below fifty beats per minute)
Beta blockers are often not recommended for patients who are alcoholics or for those suffering from asthma or any other respiratory disorders (that are known to cause wheezing), or for patients suffering from diabetes or for breast feeding or pregnant women.
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