What Happens To Your Blood Pressure When You Take Beta Blockers

Often used as a hypertension treatment drug, beta blockers may also be prescribed in cases of coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, cardiac arrhythmias, and more, according to StatPearls. While different kinds of beta blockers operate differently, generally speaking, these drugs work by binding to certain receptors in our various organ systems and subsequently slowing our heart rate. Beta blockers also lower cardiac output and reduce levels of renin, a blood pressure-related hormone, per a 2003 study in The Journal of Physiology. Together, it's these functions that produce drops in blood pressure when a person takes beta blockers.

While FDA-approved for the treatment of certain cardiovascular conditions, beta blockers are sometimes prescribed off-label for anxiety management, primarily for stage fright. Let's explore how beta blockers affect the nervous system, and what can potentially happen if a person with low blood pressure were to take beta blockers for anxiety.

How beta blockers may reduce symptoms of anxiety

Our body's "fight-or-flight" response is fueled by adrenaline. This physiological stress response may have been helpful for early humans in avoiding death or danger, but can nowadays produce anxiety symptoms that interfere with job performance or quality of life. By blocking the release of adrenaline, however, beta blockers allow us to say goodbye to sweating, shaking, a racing heart, and other physical signs of performance anxiety, Cleveland Clinic experts explain. Here are some other ways in which adrenaline affects the body.

Beta blockers can be especially helpful for people whose careers put them in the public eye, such as athletes, actors, or public speakers. A 2022 scientific review published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences notes that musicians have been found to be most impacted by anxiety. While stage fright can ramp up months in advance, experts suggest beta blockers for short-term rather than long-term use. For example, propranolol — a beta blocker commonly prescribed off-label for performance anxiety — is suggested to be taken approximately 60 minutes prior to taking the stage.

Beta blockers may be dangerous with low blood pressure

Although beta blockers have been around since the early '60s, they are not without potential risks or side effects. Some people taking these medications may experience dry mouth, dizziness, insomnia, nausea, and more, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, and asthma are advised against taking beta blockers.

In addition, people with hypotension (low blood pressure) will also want to look into alternate methods for reducing anxiety or panic attacks. Because beta blockers reduce blood pressure, taking these drugs can have serious adverse outcomes for people who have low blood pressure to begin with. Experts at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute state that such risks include stroke or heart attack due to a lack of blood supply to our essential organs. Signs that your blood pressure has gotten too low include blurry vision, fainting, confusion, dizziness, or heart palpitations. Go to the nearest emergency room or call for urgent medical help if you experience symptoms of shock, which include rapid breathing, blue skin, a weak and accelerated pulse, or skin that has become cold and sweaty.