Propranolol - a beta-blocker

Propranolol is prescribed to treat a number of different conditions. If you are unsure why you are taking it, speak with your doctor.

The most common side-effects are feeling tired, cold hands and feet, disturbed sleep, and stomach upset.

Type of medicine A beta-adrenoceptor blocking medicine (often referred to as a beta-blocker)
Used for Hypertension; angina; arrhythmias; to protect the heart; anxiety symptoms; thyroid problems; to prevent migraines
Also called Bedranol SR®; Beta Prograne®; Half Beta Prograne®; Syprol®
Available as Tablets, modified-release capsules, and oral liquid medicine

Propranolol belongs to the group of medicines known as beta-blockers. It is a medicine which is used to treat several different medical conditions. It works on the heart and blood vessels.

Propranolol slows down the activity of your heart by stopping messages sent by some nerves to your heart. It does this by blocking tiny areas (called beta-adrenergic receptors) where the messages are received by your heart. As a result, your heart beats more slowly and with less force. This allows the pressure of blood within your blood vessels to be reduced if you have hypertension (high blood pressure), and helps to prevent abnormally fast heart rhythms (arrhythmias). Because your heart is using less energy, this helps to reduce chest pain if you have angina. Propranolol can also help to protect the heart following a heart attack.

Propranolol is also prescribed to help ease the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as a fast heartbeat and trembling. Similar symptoms to these are also experienced by people with an overactive thyroid gland. Propranolol quickly relieves these types of symptoms. It is also the beta-blocker which is commonly prescribed to help prevent migraines. It can be helpful for people who find other treatments for migraine unsuitable.

Some medicines are not suitable for people with certain conditions, and sometimes a medicine may only be used if extra care is taken. For these reasons, before you start taking propranolol it is important that your doctor or pharmacist knows:

  • If you are pregnant, trying for a baby or breast-feeding.
  • If you have any problems with the way your liver works, or with the way your kidneys work.
  • If you have low blood pressure or poor circulation.
  • If you have asthma or any other breathing disorder.
  • If you have diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes).
  • If you have a skin problem called psoriasis.
  • If you have a condition causing muscle weakness, called myasthenia gravis.
  • If you have been told you have a slow heartbeat or heart block (a slow and irregular heartbeat).
  • If you have been told you have chest pain called Prinzmetal's angina (caused by spasms of your heart's blood vessels).
  • If you are taking any other medicines. This includes any medicines you are taking which are available to buy without a prescription, such as herbal and complementary medicines.
  • If you have ever had an allergic reaction to a medicine, or if you have ever had any other serious allergic reaction.
  • Before you start the treatment, read the manufacturer's printed information leaflet from inside the pack. It will give you more information about propranolol and will provide you with a full list of the side-effects which you may experience from taking it.
  • Your doctor will tell you what dose is right for you, and this information will be printed on the label of the pack to remind you. Take propranolol exactly as your doctor tells you to. Propranolol tablets are usually prescribed to be taken in divided doses - so you may be prescribed two, three or four doses to take each day. Propranolol capsules have a more prolonged action and are prescribed to be taken once daily. Swallow the capsule whole with a drink of water - do not chew or open the capsules.
  • Propranolol tablets and capsules are available in several different strengths. Each time you collect a fresh supply, it's a good idea to check the strength on the packet to make sure they are the strength you are expecting.
  • Try to take your doses at the same times of day each day, as this will help you to remember to take them regularly.
  • If you do forget to take a dose, take it as soon as you remember unless your next dose is due. If your next dose is due, then take the tablet/capsule which is due but leave out the forgotten one. Do not take two doses together to make up for missing one.
  • Try to keep your regular appointments with your doctor. This is so your doctor can check on your progress.
  • Treatment with propranolol can often be long-term. Continue to take the tablets/capsules unless your doctor tells you to stop. Stopping treatment suddenly can cause problems in some people, so your doctor may want you to reduce your dose gradually if this becomes necessary.
  • If you are due to have an operation or dental treatment, it is important to tell the person carrying out the treatment that you are taking a beta-blocker. This is because some anaesthetics may increase the risk of unwanted effects.
  • If you drink alcohol, ask your doctor for advice about taking propranolol and alcohol. Alcohol will add to the blood pressure lowering effect of propranolol and so may not be recommended for you.
  • If you have diabetes, propranolol can block the symptoms of low blood sugar. Your doctor will advise you about this.
  • If you buy any medicines, check with a pharmacist that they are suitable for you to take. Some medicines (including some cough, cold and flu remedies) may not be.
  • Your doctor may give you dietary and lifestyle advice about eating a healthy diet, not smoking, and taking regular exercise. If so, it is important that you follow the advice you are given.

Along with their useful effects, most medicines can cause unwanted side-effects although not everyone experiences them. The table below contains some of the most common ones associated with propranolol. You will find a full list in the manufacturer's information leaflet supplied with your medicine. The unwanted effects often improve as your body adjusts to the new medicine, but speak with your doctor or pharmacist if any of the following continue or become troublesome.

Common propranolol side-effects (these affect less than 1 in 10 people)
What can I do if I experience this?
Feeling tired If this happens, do not drive or use tools or machines until you feel more awake
Cold hands or feet, feeling breathless, disturbed sleep, a slow heartbeat Speak with your doctor if any of these become troublesome
Less common side-effects include impotence, reduced sexual desire, mood changes, headache, stomach upset Speak with your doctor if any of these become troublesome

If you experience any other symptoms which you think may be due to the medicine, speak with your doctor or pharmacist for further advice.

  • Keep all medicines out of the reach and sight of children.
  • Store in a cool, dry place, away from direct heat and light.

Never take more than the prescribed dose. If you suspect that you or someone else might have taken an overdose of this medicine, go to the accident and emergency department of your local hospital at once. Take the container with you, even if it is empty.

This medicine is for you. Never give it to other people even if their condition appears to be the same as yours.

Do not keep out-of-date or unwanted medicines. Take them to your local pharmacy which will dispose of them for you.

If you have any questions about this medicine ask your pharmacist.

Further reading & references

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.

Original Author:
Helen Allen
Current Version:
Peer Reviewer:
Prof Cathy Jackson
Last Checked:
23/07/2014
Document ID:
1480 (v25)
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