Beta-Blockers: Why You Need Them for Heart Failure
Beta-blockers are some of the most effective medications for treating heart failure. While side effects and determining dosage can make their use difficult, abruptly stopping them is dangerous.
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Beta-blockers are drugs that can slow your heart rate and keep it from overworking. They also can stop your heart from responding to stress hormones, such as adrenaline. Over time, beta-blockers may help your heart pump better.
When you start taking beta-blockers, your heart-failure symptoms may become slightly worse for about two to three weeks, as your heart adjusts to the medication. You may feel more tired or dizzy. That’s normal. However, you will need to check your blood pressure and heart rate to make sure they don’t drop too low.
Taking beta-blockers as directed is essential. Even if you think they aren’t working or aren’t making you feel better, they’re helping prevent your heart disease from getting worse.
It’s especially important to continue beta-blockers if you’ve been taking them long-term. Studies show that abruptly stopping them can cause chest pain and increase your risk of sudden cardiac death.
So, don’t stop taking your beta-blockers unless your physician says so – even if they are causing any of these common side effects:
If any of these side effects persist or are severe, talk to your doctor about how to control them. Sometimes your doctor can:
“The top reason patients stop using beta-blockers is admission to the hospital – for various conditions, not just heart failure,” says W.H. Wilson Tang, MD, a cardiologist at the Kaufman Center for Heart Failure at the Cleveland Clinic and Director of its Center for Clinical Genomics. “However, most people should not stop, even if they are hospitalized, unless the doctors decided that it is more harm than good.”
Research shows that patients fare better when they continue taking beta-blockers while in the hospital, even with acute heart failure.
“An inability to tolerate beta-blockers indicates a worsening heart condition,” says Dr. Tang. “Other testing may be necessary to determine if the heart is too weak for beta-blockers.”
If you stopped taking beta-blockers, tell your doctor immediately. Re-determining the correct dosage is a complicated process. While it’s important that you resume beta-blockers, you will need to closely follow instructions from your doctor.
“How much and how quickly to increase the dose will depend on your medical condition,” says Dr. Tang. “It can take time and even adjustment of other medications in order to maintain adequate blood pressure.”
Your best precaution? Make sure you always have enough beta-blocker medication on hand. Running out – or simply not taking your medication – can complicate your healthcare and be dangerous.