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 (ADA), almost 1 in 3 American adults has high blood pressure. For people living with diabetes, 2 out of 3 have high blood pressure.
High blood pressure doesn’t necessarily cause symptoms. You may feel fine. However, 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.
If you have high blood pressure, your doctor may want to try other methods of treating it before prescribing beta-blockers. Other treatment methods 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 systemic review recommends drug therapy to lower your systolic blood pressure (top number) if it’s above 130 mm Hg.
If you’re living with diabetes, treating high blood pressure reduces your risk of developing cardiovascular problems, kidney disease, and neuropathy.
Beta-blockers (beta-adrenergic blocking agents) are a class of prescription drugs. They’re used to treat a variety of conditions such as glaucoma, migraines, and anxiety disorders. They’re also used to treat heart failure and high blood pressure. High blood pressure can increase your risk for heart disease and stroke.
Beta-blockers stop the effects of the hormone norepinephrine (adrenaline). This slows the nerve impulses in your heart, which causes your heart to beat slower.
Your heart doesn’t have to work as hard. It beats with less pressure. Beta-blockers can also help open up blood vessels, which improves blood flow.
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. That can be dangerous. You’ll have to check your blood sugar levels frequently and eat consistently, especially if you’re prone to low blood sugar.
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 effect of beta-blockers 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 are available under a variety of names. Examples include:
- acebutolol (Sectral)
- atenolol (Tenormin)
- betaxolol (Kerlone)
- bisoprolol (Zebeta)
- metoprolol (Lopressor, Toprol-XL)
- nadolol (Corgard)
- penbutolol sulfate (Levatol)
- pindolol (Visken)
- propranolol (Inderal LA, InnoPran XL)
- 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.
If you have diabetes, it’s important to get regular checkups. Just as you monitor your blood glucose levels, you should also keep track of 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, consider quitting. Work with your doctor and dietitian to maintain a healthy diet and exercise program.