Beta blockers (β-blockers) are a class of drug which target the beta receptor present on the cells of the heart muscles, smooth muscles, airways, arteries, kidneys, and other tissues that are part of the sympathetic nervous system and lead to stress responses, especially when they are stimulated by epinephrine (adrenaline). Beta blockers interfere with the binding to the receptor of epinephrine and other stress hormones, and weaken the effects of stress hormones.
They are particularly used for the management of cardiac arrhythmias, protecting the heart from a second heart attack (myocardial infarction) after a first heart attack (secondary prevention), and hypertension.
In 1962, Sir James W. Black found the first clinically significant beta blockers—propranolol and pronethalol; it revolutionized the medical management of angina pectoris and is considered by many to be one of the most important contributions to clinical medicine and pharmacology of the 20th century.
Beta blockers block the action of endogenous catecholamines epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline) in particular, on β-adrenergic receptors, part of the sympathetic nervous system which mediates the fight-or-flight response. Three types of beta receptors are known, designated β1, β2 and β3 receptors.
β1-adrenergic receptors are located mainly in the heart and in the kidneys. β2-adrenergic receptors are located mainly in the lungs, gastrointestinal tract, liver, uterus, vascular smooth muscle, and skeletal muscle. β3-adrenergic receptors are located in fat cells.