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Beta blockers anxiety

Do beta blockers help with anxiety symptoms?

Whether you had sweaty palms before an exam or a racing heart before a driving test, we’ve all experienced the symptoms of anxiety from time to time. These physical reactions can be hard to cope with - especially if you need to perform under pressure - but medication called beta blockers can help provide some relief.

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What are beta blockers?

Beta blockers help to reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety, including sweating, shaking and a racing heart, by blocking the effects of the stress hormones noradrenaline and adrenaline. Although the medicine can make these symptoms more manageable, it doesn’t treat the feeling of anxiety itself.

When you’re feeling anxious, your body releases these hormones as part of our ‘fight or flight response’ - the body’s stress response - which happens when we encounter something we think is a threat. These chemicals help our body to deal with the threat and cause an increased heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate.

This response is a normal, biological mechanism that helps to keep us alive. It allows us to react more quickly in a dangerous situation, for example, if we spot a car coming towards us and we need to jump out of the way.

While the fight or flight response can be helpful, it isn’t always accurate. Sometimes, stressful but non-threatening situations can also trigger this response, such as sitting an exam.

However, when our bodies are flooded with stress hormones like noradrenaline, the part of our brain that helps us process information and make decisions - the prefrontal cortex - is blocked. This means that we’re less able to think clearly, which isn’t helpful if you’re taking a test. Beta blockers can help to calm down the body’s physical stress response.

Who might be prescribed beta blockers?

Beta blockers are a prescription-only medicine, which means you can only take them if prescribed them by your doctor.

Dr Krishna Vakharia, a GP and clinical director of, says: “You may be prescribed beta blockers if you have a specific event you are worried about. They are usually prescribed to provide short-term relief from anxiety symptoms.”

Beta blockers may be prescribed if your symptoms don’t meet all the criteria for an anxiety disorder. For example, if you only experience anxiety during exams.

But if you feel worried nearly every day and feel anxious about all sorts of things, you may be diagnosed with as anxiety disorder such as Generalised Anxiety Disorder - in which case your doctor may suggest a different type of medicine or therapy.

“Some people do take beta blockers long-term, but in general they are given for short periods of time. If needed long-term, we would explore whether the person needs another more anxiety-specific medication such as an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor).”

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Are beta blockers safe to take?

Beta blockers are not suitable for everyone. You should tell your doctor if you have heart failure, low blood pressure, a slow heartbeat, a condition that affects the rhythm of your heart, lung disease, metabolic acidosis - when the blood is too acidic - or asthma. You should also say if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding or are trying to get pregnant.

Beta blockers can also react with other medicines, including medicines for high blood pressure or diabetes, such as insulin.

What are the side effects of beta blockers?

“The most common side effects include a slow heartbeat, dizziness and feeling light-headed. They can also cause nightmares,” says Vakharia. You may also feel tired, sick or have cold fingers or toes, as beta blockers can affect the blood supply to your hands and feet.

Serious side effects are rare, but include: Shortness of breath, a tight chest, a cough that gets worse when you exercise, swollen ankles or legs, or an irregular heartbeat, which can be signs of heart or lung problems. A yellow tinge to your skin or eyes may indicate a liver problem.

If you’re struggling with anxiety, you should speak to your GP to find out the best course of action for you. Although beta blockers may help you cope with the symptoms in the short-term, it may be better to try alternative, longer-term treatments such as talk therapy.

Article history

The information on this page is peer reviewed by qualified clinicians.

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