Cardioselective vs. Non-cardioselective Beta Blockers

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Learn about a type of medication called beta-blockers and the difference between cardioselective and non-cardioselective beta-blockers. Explore adrenergic pharmacology, beta-blocker receptors in the body, and how each type of beta-blocker works. Updated: 01/05/2022

Designing A Drug

If you were to design a product that blocks sunlight, what would you call it? Sunblock would be about right, now wouldn't it? So if you were to design a drug that blocks a type of receptor, called a beta receptor, what would you call it? A beta blocker sounds about right.

That's what this lesson is about, the basics surrounding cardioselective (heart-selective) and non-cardioselective beta blockers.

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  • 0:04 Designing a Drug
  • 0:27 An Adrenergic…
  • 2:27 Non-Cardioselective…
  • 3:52 Cardioselective Beta Blockers
  • 4:20 Lesson Summary
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An Adrenergic Pharmacology Brief

To understand the main differences between cardioselective and non-cardioselective beta blockers, we need to make sure you know some very basic concepts pertaining to adrenergic pharmacology. The adrenergic system is the one that uses neurohormones and neurotransmitters called epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline).

These biochemicals land on specific receptors of your body to exert their effects. Some of these receptors are called beta receptors, aka beta-adrenergic receptors. While both norepinephrine and epinephrine act on beta receptors, it is mainly epinephrine that is in charge of stimulating beta receptors, so we'll ignore norepinephrine for simplicity's sake.

There are three major types of beta receptors stimulated by epinephrine: beta-1, beta-2, and beta-3. And here's where you have to wake up for this lesson's sake!

  • Beta-1 receptors are found in the heart.

Memory aid: You've got 1 heart, so beta-1 receptors are found in that 1 heart. When epinephrine stimulates beta-1 receptors, the heart rate increases, and the force of contraction of the heart increases as well. Excessive stimulation of beta-1 receptors can lead to irregular heart rhythms, or arrhythmias. Beta-1 stimulation also causes the release of an enzyme called renin from the kidneys. The release of renin sets off a cascade of steps that increases a person's blood pressure.

  • Beta-2 receptors are found in the smooth muscle of the body, especially the smooth muscle surrounding the airways of the lungs and the blood vessels of your skeletal muscles.

Memory aid: You've got 2 lungs and 2 types of blood vessels (arteries and veins) so beta-2 receptors are found in the smooth muscle of these 2 places. When epinephrine stimulates beta-2 receptors, the airways and the blood vessels (especially in skeletal muscle) dilate. That is to say, they open up or expand.

  • Beta-3 receptors. Not relevant to our lesson. These are found on fat cells of your body.

(Non-)cardioselective Beta Blockers

Now that you've got that down pat, let's move on to the blocking part of beta-blockers. Some medications can block the effects of epinephrine on beta receptors. Hence the name beta blocker, beta antagonist, or beta-adrenergic antagonist. They're synonymous terms.


Beta blockers are used to treat a wide variety of conditions, including high blood pressure and all sorts of heart problems like heart failure or arrhythmias. Some of the beta blockers are non-cardioselective beta blockers. Based on what you just learned, what do you think that means? It means they don't specifically target beta-1 receptors. Instead, they target and thus affect both beta-1 and beta-2 receptors.

Examples of non-cardioselective beta blockers include:

  • Propranolol
  • Nadolol
  • Labetalol
  • Carvedilol
  • Sotalol

So what do you think these medications do, generally speaking? They block beta-1 and beta-2 receptors. When they block beta-1 receptors, they block the effect of epinephrine on the beta-1 receptors and thus:

  • Decrease the heart rate and contractility of the heart (thus reducing the workload on a potentially failing heart).
  • Minimize arrhythmias.
  • Decrease a person's blood pressure since the release of renin is minimized.

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