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Beta blockers are very popular prescription medications that, among other functions, help to stabilize hypertension and related symptoms. Most patients who use their medications as directed and follow their doctors' recommendations about lifestyle changes enjoy significant symptom relief in just a few months. As with any medication, however, there are risks of side effects when taking beta blockers for hypertension. Most doctors consider the pros to outweigh the cons of using beta blockers to treat hypertension, and they usually prescribe medication as part of an initial treatment plan before considering more aggressive medical or surgical options.
One of the most desirable benefits of using beta blockers for hypertension is the fact that they help control blood pressure in two distinct ways. First, by blocking the activity of the neurotransmitters epinephrine and norepinephrine in the brain, the drug slows down nerve impulses into the heart. Heart rate slows as a result of less stimulation from the brain. Second, beta blockers help to relax the smooth muscle tissue surrounding blood vessels throughout the body. Veins and arteries are able to dilate when they are relaxed, allowing more blood to flow through at a normal pace.
Research also shows that beta blockers can help to control stress levels and the resulting physiological responses in the body. Relieving stress helps patients to stay calm during difficult times and avoid the sudden increases in blood pressure that can come with anger and anxiety. Most people who are given beta blockers for hypertension are also instructed to maintain healthy diets, exercise regularly, and learn to better manage daily stress to enhance their recovery.
There are some concerns about taking beta blockers for hypertension on a regular basis, though most possible side effects are considered minor. A person may experience digestive problems such as cramps, bloating, diarrhea, and vomiting. Occasionally, beta blockers can cause headaches, dizzy spells, and shortness of breath. Sexual dysfunction occurs in a minority of male patients, and a few people have trouble sleeping at night.
A serious allergic reaction or cardiac response rarely occurs with beta blockers, but both can create life-threatening scenarios. If a person experiences a widespread skin rash, severe breathing difficulties, and tongue swelling, he or she should seek immediate medical care. Beta blockers can also slow heart rate to a dangerously low level and lead to heart failure. It is important to discuss the pros and cons of taking beta blockers with a doctor before and during treatment to make sure risks are kept to a minimum.
@indigomoth - Actually I know that quite a few performers use beta blockers. People who suffer from nerves in front of an audience, or actors at casting calls or whatever.
It's become almost standard practice for musicians to use them before a concert to make sure that they don't feel too bad and even surgeons will use it if they are worried about a particular operation, so they don't get shaking hands.
But the most interesting use I've heard of so far is for people who are in danger of developing PTSD.
Apparently studies have shown if they are given regular beta blockers for the first few weeks after a severely traumatic event people are much much less likely to develop
PTSD. They think it's because of that feedback thing. The brain goes over the event and freaks out again and starts to associate the freak-out with the memory of the event. With the beta blockers, that association is never given a chance to form.
@pastanaga - In fact beta blockers are used for people who suffer from nervous disorders. There have been several studies which show that they can be very effective, although doctors don't know exactly why they are so effective. It makes some people think that the heart controls more of the fear response than you might expect.
That it acts as a kind of feedback loop, with the heart beating faster when you feel fear or anxiety, then your body starting to respond, and then you feeling the fear physically which makes you more afraid and so forth.
But they really don't know for sure. All they do know is that it works, although I'm not sure if it's supposed to be prescribed for these or if it's an off prescription use.
I saw an episode of House recently where the doctors were treating a patient who, as it turned out, was taking beta blockers. Over the course of the episode they first found out that this person was a drug dealer, and then found out he was actually an undercover cop.
He had been taking the beta blockers in order to slow his heart beat because he was terrified of where he was living and how he was having to lie to really scary criminals.
It had never occurred to me before that beta blockers could affect your mood like that. Not so much taking the fear away, I suppose, but making it so that none of the symptoms of the fear were showing. So beta blockers must just calm down the whole body, so that you don't get sweaty or shakes or anything.
That's pretty amazing when you think about it.