Do Beta-blockers Help Diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes can be a difficult condition to treat, and it's an ongoing process to keep blood sugars within normal levels. If you have type 2 diabetes, it's important to understand the treatment options available, such as lifestyle changes, medications, and more.

Lifestyle changes, such as getting enough physical activity and sticking to a balanced diet, are the first line of treatment for type 2 diabetes, though many people also need medication to help reduce blood sugars and keep insulin levels within normal limits. 

Beta-blockers are not typically prescribed specifically for type 2 diabetes, but they may be prescribed to somebody with type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure (where beta-blockers are used to treat high blood pressure).

Learn more about what beta-blockers are, how they might impact your diabetes, and more.

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What are beta-blockers?

Beta-blockers, also called beta-adrenergic blocking agents, are a class of medications that block adrenaline from performing its regular function of increasing your heart rate. They are most often prescribed in people with high blood pressure who have not responded to other lines of treatment, though there are other conditions that can also be improved with beta-blockers.

One way to easily identify beta-blocking medication is by looking for a suffix of 'lol' at the end. For example:

  • Timolol

  • Carvedilol

  • Esmolol

Types of beta-blockers

While all beta-blockers reduce the amount of work your heart does to circulate blood throughout your body, different types of beta-blockers use different mechanisms to achieve this. Some beta-blockers, for example, work on just your heart, while others target your heart and blood vessels throughout your body.

Beta-blockers can be selective or non-selective.

Selective beta-blockers

Selective beta-blockers only block one type of receptor in the body — beta-1 receptors. These receptors are in control of your heart rate and blood pressure, influencing how fast your heart beats and how much blood it pumps.

There are numerous selective beta-blockers available, such as:

  • Bisoprolol (e.g., Zebeta)

  • Atenolol (e.g., Tenormin)

  • Metoprolol tartrate (e.g., Lopressor)

Non-selective beta-blockers

Non-selective beta-blockers work by blocking two types of beta receptors— beta-1 and beta-2 receptors. In addition to using the same mechanism as selective beta-blockers, they also impact beta-2 receptors.

Beta-2 receptors are in charge of how constricted or open your blood vessels are throughout your body, which also impacts your blood pressure and heart rate.

Some examples of non-selective beta-blockers are:

  • Labetalol (e.g., Trandate)

  • Nadolol (e.g., Corgard)

  • Sotalol (e.g., Betapace)

Delivery methods of beta-blockers

The most common way that people take beta-blockers is in the form of an oral tablet or capsule that they swallow once or twice per day. Your doctor may also prescribe a beta-blocker injection to be administered by a healthcare professional at the prescribed intervals.

Some beta-blockers are delivered as eye drops, though this delivery method is only for those who have glaucoma and have increased pressure in their eyes.

There are several beta-blockers available, each with its own characteristics. Your doctor will prescribe the best type for your specific set of symptoms.

What are beta-blockers used for?

Beta-blockers can be used for a wide variety of conditions, most of which relate to heart rate or blood pressure. The most common conditions that beta-blockers can help are:

  • High blood pressure

  • Heart attacks

  • Heart failure

  • Angina (chest pain)

  • Atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat)

Many people struggle with more than one of these conditions at the same time, and beta-blockers can help to address several of the above conditions.

Beta-blockers can affect numerous other systems throughout your body, and they can actually help treat other conditions not directly related to the function of your heart, such as :

Doctors may prescribe beta-blockers for people with hyperthyroidism, for example, because it tends to cause an elevated heart rate that can lead to anxiety and tremors. Beta-blockers can reduce these symptoms while the actual treatment for hyperthyroidism takes effect.

Is it safe to use beta-blockers for type 2 diabetes?

For many people with type 2 diabetes alongside other conditions that require the use of beta-blockers, the use of beta-blockers is safe. However, some beta-blockers, particularly atenolol and metoprolol, have been shown to increase blood sugar levels, which can negatively affect a person who already has type 2 diabetes.

Additionally, beta-blockers can prevent certain signs of low blood sugar from presenting themselves, such as a rapid heartbeat.  This can make it more difficult for people with type 2 diabetes to notice if they have low blood sugar.

If you have type 2 diabetes and are taking a beta-blocker, it's important to take your blood sugar readings regularly and not depend only on the physical signs of low blood sugar. One symptom of low blood sugar that beta-blockers don't block is sweating. Pay close attention and seek medical care if you begin to sweat excessively if you have type 2 diabetes and are on a beta-blocker. 

Can high blood pressure medication prevent diabetes?

A recent study¹ showed that statins, a type of high blood pressure medication different from beta-blockers, may work to prevent type 2 diabetes by lowering blood pressure. 

This has led to claims that high blood pressure medications can prevent type 2 diabetes, but more studies are needed to assess these findings. They are certainly an exciting prospect in the fight against high blood pressure and diabetes, but there is currently not enough evidence that it is the case.

Which beta-blocker is best for type 2 diabetes?

If you have type 2 diabetes and you need to start taking a beta-blocker, your doctor will review your medical history to decide which beta-blocker is best for you.

Generally speaking, however, carvedilol is often considered the best beta-blocker for type 2 diabetes, as it tends to have a lower impact on fasting blood glucose compared to other beta-blockers. 

That doesn't mean it's the perfect solution for everyone with both type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, but it might produce fewer side effects and work better for people with type 2 diabetes. Having said that, your doctor or healthcare provider may decide a different beta-blocker is worth trying to control your blood pressure or other related conditions. 

Advantages of beta-blockers

Not everyone can benefit from taking beta-blockers, but this medication provides several advantages for those who can. They are relatively inexpensive, especially generic brands. This makes beta-blockers accessible to more people when compared to other forms of treatment that may be too expensive.

Too high a price point can cause people not to take their prescribed medication.

As we've already seen, beta-blockers can also be used to treat more than one condition at the same time. Many people who have high blood pressure also suffer from angina and arrhythmias, and beta-blockers can address all of these issues by helping the heart to slow down.

Lastly, beta-blockers have been around for several decades. There are numerous studies and clinical trials that have shown their positive effects on the body. Beta-blockers are more understood than many other drugs being developed, which can make it easier for doctors to make informed decisions when prescribing them.

Doctors have experience prescribing beta-blockers, monitoring people on them, and preventing negative side effects associated with this medication.

Compared to other prescription medications, beta-blockers are a relatively mild medication that pose few risks to patients, though there are some side effects to be aware of.

Common side effects of beta-blockers

Most people can take beta-blockers without any noticeable side effects. As with all prescription medications, however, they can cause some side effects.

The most common side effects of beta-blockers are relatively mild and include:

  • Weight gain

  • Cold hands and feet

  • Fatigue

  • Nausea

  • Dizziness

There are some less common, more severe, symptoms that you should be aware of if you or a loved one are prescribed beta-blockers:

  • Shortness of breath

  • Swollen legs

  • Chest pain

  • Irregular heartbeat

  • Tightening of chest

  • Yellowing skin and eyes

If you experience any of these less common symptoms, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Potential interactions of beta-blockers with other medications

Beta-blockers can produce negative effects when paired with other medications. Some medications that can cause interactions with beta-blockers are:

  • Some anti-depressants

  • Antipsychotics

  • Medications that treat COPD, emphysema, asthma, and chronic bronchitis

  • Oral type 2 diabetes medications

  • Malaria medication (mefloquine)

  • Antihypertensives

  • Anti-arrhythmics

Whether you take any of the above medications or not, you should always tell your doctor about all of the prescription medications, over-the-counter medicines, and supplements you take on a regular basis.

You can also speak with your pharmacist if you have concerns or questions about drug interactions that involve your beta-blockers.

Other things to avoid while on beta-blockers

There are other substances that can interfere with the effectiveness of beta-blockers. Some things to avoid while on beta-blockers include:

Grapefruit juice is known to interfere with several medications, so it is best to avoid it, especially shortly before or after taking your beta-blocker. Apple and orange juice can also decrease the absorption of certain beta-blockers, so be sure to talk about this with your doctor or pharmacist, and review the pamphlet that comes with your prescription to learn more about what to avoid when taking them.

When should I see a doctor?

Although you should see your doctor annually for a check-up, it is recommended that you see them if you experience any disruptive side effects from beta-blockers, especially if you also have type 2 diabetes.

Generally speaking, you should see a healthcare provider right away if you experience sudden changes in your symptoms, especially:

  • Shortness of breath

  • Dizziness or fainting

  • Rapid heartbeat

  • Chest pain

You should also speak with your doctor if you notice regular episodes of low blood sugar. Low blood sugar can be dangerous, especially if left untreated in the long term.

You should also make an appointment to speak with your doctor if you believe you might have high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, or any other conditions that impact your quality of life.

The lowdown

High blood pressure is associated with numerous conditions that can severely impact a person's life, but simple interventions, such as beta-blockers, can help to resolve the issue. Beta-blockers are not right for everyone, but they can play a role in lowering blood pressure for certain people.

If you have type 2 diabetes and you are curious about how beta-blockers might be able to help you, speak with your healthcare provider.

Your doctor will review your medical history and which other medications and treatments you are currently taking. They will devise a comprehensive plan to treat your type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, which may or may not include prescribing a beta-blocker.

If you are prescribed a beta-blocker, take the medication as directed, and contact your doctor if you notice severe side effects. Avoid stopping your beta-blocker suddenly, as this can cause negative effects and potentially worsen your condition.

If you want to come off your beta-blockers for whatever reason, your doctor can help you ease off the medication gradually to mitigate any negative effects.

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