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What are the side effects of beta blockers?

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Aug 30, 2022.

Official answer


Side effects vary among different beta blockers because some are more selective than others. This means that some only act on beta receptors in the heart (cardioselective) whereas others also affect beta receptors located elsewhere, such as in the lungs (nonselective). Some beta-blockers, such as atenolol, are only cardioselective at low dosages.

Beta blockers are used to treat several different heart conditions and work by binding to specific beta receptors located mainly in the heart which slow heart rate and reduce how hard the heart contracts. This decreases blood pressure and improves tolerance to exercise.

The most common side effects of beta-blockers are:

  • Cold hands and feet
  • Depression
  • Difficulty sleeping or strange dreams
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth, skin or eyes
  • Gastrointestinal effects (such as nausea, diarrhea, or constipation)
  • A headache
  • A slowing of your heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sexual dysfunction or low libido
  • Temporary increase in triglyceride levels and a decrease in HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol)
  • Tiredness or fatigue
  • Weight gain.

Some side effects, such as a headache or dizziness, are more likely when you first start taking beta blockers. Others, such as shortness of breath, are more common with nonselective beta-blockers. Beta-blockers may also lower blood sugar levels and should be used with caution in people with diabetes because they can mask the symptoms of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels).

Talk to your doctor immediately if you develop any serious side effects such as anxiety, a very slow or irregular heartbeat, difficulty breathing or wheezing, or significant fluid retention or swelling.

See here for more information about beta-blockers.

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