People with diabetes tend to develop heart disease or stroke at an earlier age than the general population. One reason for this is that high glucose levels increase your risk of high blood pressure (hypertension).
According to the American Diabetes Association, almost one in three American adults has high blood pressure. Two out of three people with diabetes have high blood pressure.
High blood pressure doesn’t necessarily cause symptoms. You may feel just fine, but don’t let that fool you. Your heart is working harder than it should. It’s a serious condition, especially for people with diabetes. High blood pressure puts a lot of extra stress on your body. Over time, it can cause hardening of the arteries. It can also damage your brain, kidneys, eyes, and other organs.
Treating High Blood Pressure
If you have high blood pressure, your doctor may want to try other methods of treating it before turning to beta-blockers. These may include lifestyle changes and taking better control of blood glucose levels.
The decision to use medication, including beta-blockers, will depend on your personal medical history. A 2015 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association recommends drug therapy with a blood pressure reading of above 140 systolic and above 90 diastolic (140/90).
For people with diabetes, lowering high blood pressure reduces the risk of developing cardiovascular problems, kidney disease, and neuropathy.
Beta-blockers (beta-adrenergic blocking agents) are a class of prescription drug. They are used to treat a variety of conditions such as glaucoma, migraines, and anxiety disorders. They are also used to treat heart failure and high blood pressure. High blood pressure can increase your risk for heart disease and stroke.
The medication works by blocking the hormone norepinephrine (adrenaline). This slows the nerve impulses in your heart, so your heart beats more slowly. Your heart doesn’t have to work quite as hard and it beats with less pressure. Beta-blockers can also help open up blood vessels and improve the flow of blood.
The Connection Between Beta-Blockers and Blood Glucose
If you have diabetes, you already know how important it is to be aware of the warning signs of low blood sugar so you can take appropriate action. If you’re also taking beta-blockers, it might be a little more difficult to read the signs.
One of the symptoms of low blood sugar is rapid heartbeat. Since beta-blockers slow your heartbeat, your heart’s response to low blood sugar may not be as obvious.
You may not be able to rely on symptoms to tell you that your blood sugar is low, and that can be dangerous. For this reason, you’ll have to check your blood sugar levels frequently and eat consistently, especially if you’re prone to low blood sugar.
Other Things You Should Know About Beta-Blockers
Beta-blockers can have other side effects, too. Some of the more common ones include:
- cold hands and feet
- upset stomach
- constipation or diarrhea
Due to the effects that beta-blockers have on nutrient absorption, your doctor may recommend that you decrease your intake of sodium and/or calcium. Also, keep in mind that orange juice may interfere with the effectiveness of this medication.
Some people also experience shortness of breath, difficulty sleeping, and loss of sex drive. In men, beta-blockers can limit blood flow to the penis and cause erectile dysfunction.
Beta-blockers can also raise triglyceride and cholesterol levels. This is sometimes temporary, but your doctor may want to monitor them to be sure.
Beta-blockers are available under a variety of names. Among them are:
- acebutolol (Sectral)
- atenolol (Tenormin)
- betaxolol (Kerlone)
- bisoprolol (Zebeta)
- carteolol hydrochloride (Cartol)
- metoprolol (Lopressor, Toprol-XL)
- nadolol (Corgard)
- penbutolol sulfate (Levatol)
- pindolol (Visken)
- propranolol (Inderal LA, InnoPran XL)
- solotol hydrochloride (Betaspace)
- timolol maleate (Blocadren)
Your doctor will decide which medication is best for you. Follow your doctor’s instructions and read the label carefully. If you have side effects, report them to your doctor right away. Adjusting or changing your medication may improve (or increase) side effects.
The Importance of Partnering with Your Doctor
If you have diabetes, it’s vital to get regular checkups. Just as you monitor your blood glucose levels, you should also watch your blood pressure. Since high blood pressure doesn’t generally cause symptoms, be sure to have your blood pressure checked often. Ask your doctor about using a home blood pressure monitor.
If your blood pressure is elevated, catching it early may help you delay or avoid the need for medications to control it.
Limit your alcohol consumption. If you smoke, it’s time to quit. Work with your doctor and dietitian to maintain a healthy diet and exercise program.