Beta-Blockers For Heart Problems
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What is a beta-blocker?
A beta-blocker is a medicine that is often used to treat high blood pressure and heart problems. Some examples of beta-blockers are atenolol, metoprolol and propranolol. This kind of medicine blocks the harmful effects of stress hormones on your heart. (The stress hormone is epinephrine, also known as adrenaline.) Beta blockers also slow your heart rate and relieve pressure on your heart.
Beta blockers may be used to treat congestive heart failure. They can reduce the risk of future heart attacks for people who have had one. Some people who have severe heart failure may not be able to take beta blockers. Beta-blockers can also be used to prevent migraine headaches and in eye-drops to treat glaucoma.
Path to improved health
You should take your beta-blocker exactly as your healthcare provider tells you. Beta-blockers are usually taken once or twice a day. Try to take the medicine at the same time every day. Do not stop taking your beta-blocker without talking to your healthcare provider first. If you forget to take a dose, contact your pharmacist for advice. Never take a double dose to catch up.
People who have certain health conditions need to be careful taking beta blockers. If you have diabetes, the medicine can hide warning signs of low blood sugar. For example, your heart rate may not increase normally in response to a low blood sugar level. You will need to check your blood sugar levels carefully when taking a beta blocker. Talk to your healthcare provider if you often have low blood sugar. They may want to change the dosage of your diabetes medicine.
Beta blockers can be a problem for people who have asthma. They can cause asthma attacks. Work with your healthcare provider to monitor your asthma and prevent attacks.
Sometimes people who have a chronic lung disease such as emphysema, bronchitis, or both diseases together, known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), can take beta-blockers. If you have lung disease and are taking a beta-blocker, contact your healthcare provider right away if you start having breathing problems.
Beta blockers may interact with other medicines. This includes over-the-counter medicines and prescriptions. The interaction can cause severe health problems. Tell your doctor about all medicines that you take. Check with your healthcare provider before starting any new medicine.
Things to consider
Most people who take beta blockers do well and have no side effects. Since beta blockers slow your heart, you may feel more tired. Exercise may seem harder than before. For example, you may get out of breath when you take a walk or climb stairs. Make sure you don’t overdo it with exercise. Use a device to measure your heartrate. Some people can have a loss of sex drive when taking beta blockers. Men can have trouble with erections while on the medicine. Contact your healthcare provider if you have these problems.
Beta blockers may make you feel dizzy or lightheaded. When you first start taking them, do not drive a car or operate machines. You can resume these once you know how the medicine affects you. The dizziness often goes away after you have taken the medicine for a few days.
Contact your healthcare provider or get help right away if you:
- Are dizzy for more than a few days.
- Have trouble breathing.
- Have chest pain.
- Retain fluid and have swelling in your hands, feet, or legs.
- Have a slow heartbeat (less than 50 beats per minute).
- Gain weight for no known reason.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada