Beta blockers were first used in the 1960s to treat angina or chest pain related to stress or exertion, and they are still a primary treatment for multiple cardiac issues. Today, millions of Americans take a beta blocker daily. Modern research shows that this class of medication can also treat or prevent a variety of diseases beyond cardiac conditions.
Some cells in the body have small proteins on the outer surface. These beta receptors are one of three types. Beta-1 receptors are only on cardiac cells. Beta-2 receptors appear on cells in the lungs, blood vessels, and, to some extent, the heart. Beta-3 receptors are on fat cells. The nervous system releases chemicals — norepinephrine and adrenaline — that communicate with beta receptors to increase heart rate, constrict blood vessels, relax the airway, and stimulate the kidneys to release proteins that increase blood pressure. Beta blockers settle into these receptors, preventing the chemicals from binding and stopping these responses.
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