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Propranolol: Medication, Uses & Anxiety

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson defines a cardiovascular medication known as propranolol. You'll learn how it works and, as a result, what it's used for. You'll also learn why propranolol might be effective in treating, of all things, anxiety.

Stress

Have you ever been really stressed out at the doctor's office? If you have, do you recall what your blood pressure or heart rate was, roughly? It was almost certainly high in either case. Why? It's because a hormone called epinephrine (adrenaline) stimulates receptors, called beta receptors. Their stimulation increases the rate at which your heart beats and it increases your blood pressure as well.

Keep this in mind as we go over propranolol, namely its uses (especially for anxiety).

What is Propranolol?

The skeletal chemical structure of propranolol
The chemical structure of propranolol

Propranolol is a type of beta blocker. In other words, it blocks beta receptors. What does it block the beta receptors from? From stimulation by hormones, namely epinephrine. As you just learned, if epinephrine stimulates the beta receptors, then we can expect a faster heart rate and increased blood pressure. Thus, by blocking beta receptors, propranolol helps to reverse these changes or prevent them in the first place.

An adrenergic beta receptor
Adrenergic beta receptor

More specifically, it's stimulation of the beta-1 receptors that leads to a faster heart rate. So, the blockage of these guys with propranolol decreases heart rate. Stimulation of beta-1 receptors also causes the release of a compound called renin, whose actions cause a cascade of events to occur, ones that end up increasing a person's blood pressure. The release of renin is decreased thanks to propranolol and so a person's blood pressure decreases as a result.

Uses

So what do you think propranolol is used to treat then? If you answered hypertension , or high blood pressure, you're right! It's also use to treat arrhythmias, or abnormal heart rhythms. Other things propranolol has been used to treat include:

  • Angina, or chest pain as a result of a heart-related issue
  • Migraines
  • Tremors
  • Pheochromocytoma, a potentially deadly tumor of the adrenal gland.
  • Anxiety

Propranolol & Anxiety

You read that right, anxiety! While propranolol is largely used to treat cardiovascular issues, it's been used to treat anxiety as well. No one is exactly sure why propranolol might help people with anxiety. The key word is 'might', because some studies have shown it does nothing of the sort and there's a general lack of high quality clinical studies regarding this point.

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