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What Are the Pros and Cons of Beta Blockers for Anxiety?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: Jessica Seminara
  • Last Modified Date: 30 October 2016
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Beta blockers for anxiety can reduce anxiousness, may have fewer side effects than other anxiolytics, and could be especially helpful with certain conditions or populations. In contrast, other medications may sometimes be more effective, and beta blockers are not without side effects. These arguments underscore the need to individually tailor treatment to patient response. It’s also the case that no medicinal remedy cures anxiety disorders.

One of the reasons that beta blockers for anxiety work is because these drugs act on beta receptors that are stimulated in response to norepinephrine. This interaction can create over-excitation in patients prone to panic. Symptoms like panic attacks, shakiness, palpitations and sweaty palms are common. When a beta blocker is used, these outward signs of anxiety calm down, which can help people better handle their anxious feelings.

Of the many medications that are suggested for anxiety disorders, beta blockers often have fewer side effects. Other drugs, especially benzodiazepines, tend to cause sedation, which can interfere with actions in the moment anxiousness occurs. The argument can’t be made that these medicines are without side effects, and while taking them some people experience depression, sexual dysfunction, and occasionally, delirium.

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There are certain types of anxiety that appear to benefit most from these medications, and some groups of people can be better served by these drugs. People who have social or performance anxiety are often assisted because a beta blocker reduces shakiness and rapid heartbeat. In many cases, it is these outward manifestations of anxiety that make people less able to function. Additionally, elderly people often respond well to beta blockers for anxiety, provided these don’t conflict with other cardiac medications. Older individuals are more likely to have negative reactions to benzodiazepines.

Those opposed to beta blockers for anxiety point out that other medications work differently. Drugs that inhibit serotonin reuptake may cause less anxiety to occur. Benzodiazepines are short acting and these may better serve individuals who have unpredictable panic or anxiety events. Other medicines may also work better for people with stronger anxiety disorders; whereas beta blockers don’t always provide enough coverage and don’t stop emotional anxiety. Furthermore, some people are simply opposed to using any kind of psychoactive drugs, and suggest that hypnosis or meditation methods are more likely to work.

Each of the aforementioned pros and cons represents a point of view about anxiety, based on many generalizations. None of these arguments successfully predicts for an individual whether beta blockers for anxiety are a good or bad choice. They are simply a choice, which must be weighed by those who are battling anxiety disorder.

On the other hand, it is the case that most people require psychotherapy to conquer anxiety disorders. Beta blockers and other anxiolytics are useful adjuncts while a person gets therapeutic assistance. Which drug type is best, though, is really up to each individual to determine, often through trial and error.

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