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Beta blockers are prescription drugs used to treat high blood pressure, abnormal heart rates, congestive heart failure, and other cardiac problems. They work by blocking receptor sites on nerves for epinephrine and norepinephrine, which helps to widen blood vessels and take pressure off of the heart. Beta blockers can cause a number of unwanted side effects, though they are usually mild and do not cause serious health problems. Dizziness, drowsiness, and cold hands are common, and a minority of patients also experience breathing difficulties, digestive issues, and sexual dysfunction. If a person has an allergic skin reaction or serious beta blockers side effects, he or she should visit a hospital immediately to reduce the risk of major complications.
When beta blockers inhibit nerve activity, they relax smooth muscle tissue and allow blood vessels to expand. Most of the common beta blockers side effects are direct results of these therapeutic changes. Blood circulation to the hands and feet is slowed, which may leave the extremities feeling cold. As the central nervous system is depressed, a person can experience headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, and mild mental confusion. Some people also have vivid dreams, nightmares, or daytime visual hallucinations due to nervous system changes.
A few types of beta blockers can impact the digestive and reproductive systems. Nerve depression and muscle changes can cause stomach cramps, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. Most gastrointestinal problems arise after taking an initial dose of beta blockers and tend to resolve over time as the body adjusts to the medication. Changes in sex drive are more common in males than females, and may result in an inability to get an erection or a loss of desire to engage in sex.
Some beta blockers side effects can become serious. Muscles in the throat can contract and cause wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing, and difficulty swallowing. If an allergic reaction occurs, a person can develop a widespread skin rash and worsening breathing problems. The heartbeat can potentially slow to the point that the brain and body do not receive enough oxygen, which can lead to stroke, heart attack, coma, or death.
The risk of fatal beta blockers side effects is very low, and doctors take precautions when prescribing the drugs to limit the chances of complications. Physicians carefully review patients' medical histories and current drug regimens to make sure that beta blockers will be safe. If beta blockers side effects become a major concern, a doctor can adjust the patient's dosage or try a different type of heart medication.
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