Beta-Blocker Medications for AFib

Medically Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on March 14, 2023
3 min read

If you have atrial fibrillation (AFib), it can cause your heart to beat too quickly or too slowly. When it’s too fast, your doctor may prescribe beta-blockers to slow your heartbeat. These are a type of blood pressure medication. The drugs won’t necessarily fix AFib, but they may help improve your symptoms and make you feel better.

Beta-blockers can:

  • Cause your heart rate to slow down.
  • Help your heart to beat with less force.

Some drugs work better for your heart, while others work better for both your heart and blood vessels. Depending on your condition, your doctor may prescribe a beta-blocker that works best for you.

Beta-blockers slow the electrical signals in your heart and slow down your heart rate and its ability to pump blood, so it’s important to follow your doctor’s instructions carefully. Most medications are taken one to two times a day and by mouth.

  • Take the drugs at the same time each day.
  • Stick to your schedule and don’t skip your medications. But if you miss a dose, take it right away unless it’s been over 6 hours.
  • Don’t double dose to make up for the one you missed.
  • Don’t stop your medications suddenly. The withdrawal may put you at a higher risk for a heart attack.

If you’re unsure or thinking of not taking your medications, speak with your doctor first.

While brand names may differ, it’s easy to pick out beta-blockers. All of them have generic drug names that end with “lol.”

You may have side effects, including:

More serious side effects include:

  • A hard time breathing
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Slow heartbeat that dips below 50 beats per minute
  • Swelling in your hands, feet, or legs

If you have any of these more serious side effects, call your doctor right away.

As beta-blockers are designed to slow your heart down, you’re more likely to feel tired. Take it easy and don’t overdo exercises. A device that keeps track of your heart rate with beats per minute can help you track any major changes in heart rhythm.

Beta-blockers don’t work for everyone. They can also cause short-term changes in your body. These can include things like a dip in your good cholesterol (HDL) levels or higher triglycerides -- a type of fat in your blood.

Your doctor may not prescribe them for you if you have asthma. They’re more likely to start symptoms of asthma or, in some cases, trigger a severe attack.

For people with diabetes, beta-blockers can suppress or hide symptoms of low blood sugar like fast heartbeats. If you have diabetes and need to take beta-blockers, it’s best to have your doctor check your blood sugar levels regularly. The doctor may also change your diabetes medication doses if necessary.

Beta-blockers can also interact with other drugs. This includes any over-the-counter medications or prescriptions you may be taking. Tell your doctor about all the medications you’re taking before you start a course of beta-blockers.

If you take beta-blockers and are planning to get pregnant or have already conceived, talk to your doctor as soon as possible. More research is needed on how these drugs may affect your pregnancy and your unborn child. It’s possible your doctor may suggest you change your medication.