What Is the Connection between Beta Blockers and Depression?

S. Berger

Beta blockers are a class of medication often used to treat hypertension, or high blood pressure, and various heart conditions. Some individuals have been reluctant to use these drugs, however, due to a perceived link between taking beta blockers and depression. Scientific studies conducted worldwide have mentioned this connection, although usually, reports of beta blockers and depression have involved individual cases instead of large-scale studies. Such reports have caused both doctors and individuals with medical conditions to become concerned about this possibility.

Beta blockers may cause depression in some cases, but this is relatively rare.
Beta blockers may cause depression in some cases, but this is relatively rare.

A study conducted by psychiatrists at the Yale University School of Medicine in 2002 reviewed larger studies involving people taking these drugs to investigate whether they showed evidence for a relationship between beta blockers and depression. These studies, which involved over 35,000 individuals taking medications like propranolol, did not provide significant evidence for such a connection. People taking beta blockers, according to this research, did not have a higher rate of depression than those individuals that took a placebo. Only six out of every 1,000 people in these studies reported depressive symptoms after taking beta blockers.

Beta blockers.
Beta blockers.

Researchers in California and North Carolina have proposed that the perceived link between beta blockers and depression may be due to a misunderstanding. Individuals taking these drugs sometimes have a small chance of developing fatigue. People that are unfamiliar with fatigue may mistake it for depression, due to the two conditions having similar symptoms. Some doctors fail to distinguish between these ailments when talking to patients taking these medications and may mistakenly diagnose patients with depression, as a result.

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Medications must often be approved by government agencies in order to be sold in most countries. This process may require clinical trials, where the drugs are evaluated to determine their safety and potential side effects. Clinical trials involving propranolol and other drugs from this class have only showed partial evidence for a link with depression. Beta blockers and depression were only found to have a relationship in roughly half of these trials, according to an analysis performed at the University of Gainesville, Florida.

Despite these pieces of research, some individuals, including some doctors, believe that beta blockers can cause depression among certain people. Research seems to indicate that depression can occur in some cases, but that it is much less common than it was previously thought to be. Individuals concerned about the prospect of depression while taking these drugs may wish to consult a medical professional to confirm that they do not actually have fatigue.

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