Beta blockers are medications that health practitioners primarily prescribe to treat abnormal heart functions. Often, some doctors also prescribe the drug for its off-label uses or those that the Food and Drug Administration has not yet approved. An example of these off-label uses is taking beta blockers for anxiety.
Some common examples beta blockers are atenolol, bisoprolol, carvedilol, metoprolol, nebivolol, and propranolol. Most of these drugs are prescription-only drugs. Prescription-only means that a patient may only acquire these medications through the prior approval of a suitable healthcare practitioner.
Beta blockers work mainly by blocking the beta receptors of hormones such as adrenaline and noradrenaline. These two hormones mediate our fight-or-flight responses. They are also responsible for some of the physiological responses our body make during stressful situations. (1)
What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a mental disorder that causes people to experience excessive fear or worry. It is one of the most prevalent mental health disorders in the world. It affects at least 44 million adults in the US alone. Sadly, only about a third of them get the proper treatment. (2)
Anxiety may be due to various factors such as the environment, stress, trauma, or genetics. Its severity can range anywhere from mild worry to disabling panic attacks. Multiple forms of it exist such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic disorders, and social anxiety disorders. It may also worsen through time if the patient disregards its symptoms.
Anxieties can cause both psychological and physiological symptoms. Physiological means physical changes in the body that can be seen or measured using instruments. One of the common physiological symptoms of anxiety is tachycardia or rapid heart rates.
Beta Blockers For Anxiety
Beta blockers are mainly used to treat heart-related illnesses. However, there are times that doctors may prescribe it for other purposes. Hence, it is not uncommon to hear patients taking beta blockers for anxiety.
During unfamiliar or stressful situation, one of the most noticeable reactions of our body is an increase in our heart rate. Our body does this to pump more blood into our muscles and brains. Doing so provides our muscles with additional oxygen and energy that it might need. Unfortunately, this physiological change can sometimes result in more anxiety.
Beta-blockers may reduce these symptoms by blocking the activation of our stress hormones. By reducing the symptoms of anxiety, you will perceive less danger thereby lessening the anxiety itself. However, it must be noted that no conclusive evidence has yet been shown on the relationship of beta blockers and anxiety. (3)
Beta blockers can help people suffering anxiety in some degree by reducing the symptoms of the mental disorder. However, anxiety can be due to other factors other than stress such as genetics and hormonal imbalances. Anxiety should always be treated according to your doctor’s instructions.
Furthermore, studies on the relationship between beta blockers and anxiety have not shown any conclusive evidence on these claims. Experts do not recommend using beta-blocker medications as first-line treatments for anxiety. Finally, one must always be cautious when taking drugs for their off-label uses.