Beta-Blockers vs Alpha-Blockers, Uses, Effects, Costs, a Guide

Posted December 7, 2020 by Michael Chamberlain - See Editorial Guidelines

You might be wondering what the differences are between beta-blockers vs alpha-blockers. So, in this article, we’re going to run through the comparisons, and differences and give you an overview.

First of all, here’s a table showing the main differences between beta-blockers vs alpha-blockers, then we’ll discuss what each does and some specific differences.

Beta-Blockers vs Alpha-Blockers

Beta-Blockers Alpha-blockers 
Used for Used for BP and cardiovascular disease Use for BP and prostate gland enlargement (mostly)
When are they prescribed Not a first-line treatment Not a first-line treatment 
TargetsBlocks beta-receptors Blocks alpha-receptors 
Type Cardio selective and non-cardio selective Selective and non-selective 
Reaction time1-2 hours Short-acting and long-acting  
Cost Depends on the brandDepends on the brand
EffectivenessBeta-blockers are very effective, focused on blood pressureEffective for prostate gland enlargement and some blood pressure effectiveness
Beta-blockers vs Alpha-blockers – Comparison Table

Beta-Blockers vs Alpha-Blockers – What are They?

So, we can better understand the differences, let’s look first at what each one is actually prescribed for, starting with Beta-blockers.

Beta-Blockers

Beta-Blockers vs Alpha-Blockers

Beta-blockers, also known as beta-adrenergic blocking agents, are medications used to treat high blood pressure and other cardiovascular diseases.

This is also used or the treatment, prevention, or control of symptoms for angina, heart failure, heart rhythm disorders, and protection against recurrent heart attacks.

Some of the commonly used beta-blockers include:

Alpha-Blockers

Alpha-blockers, on the other hand, are mainly used for treating two health conditions namely, high blood pressure (hypertension) and prostate gland enlargement.

Prostate gland enlargement is also known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) and is a problem related to men while passing urine because of the enlargement of the prostate gland.

68% of alpha-blockers are focused on prostate gland enlargement or BHP, unlike beta-blockers that are focused purely on high blood pressure (hypertension) and other cardiovascular diseases. 

Alpha-blockers are also used for the treatment of ureteric stones, a condition where kidney stones get stuck to the ureter (a tube that goes from the kidney to the bladder). 

Alpha-blockers used to be used for the treatment of heart failure and Raynaud’s phenomenon. However, with the development of further medications, alpha-blockers are not likely to be prescribed for these medical conditions anymore.

The most common alpha-blockers prescribed for high blood pressure include:

How Often have Doctors Prescribed Beta-Blockers vs Alpha-Blockers?

Both beta-blockers and alpha-blockers are never prescribed as a first-line treatment for blood pressure. They’re prescribed only when other medications such as diuretics have not worked effectively.

Even while prescribing both these medications for blood pressure, they’re prescribed along with many other medications. Meaning both beta and alpha-blockers are not a single medication treatment for blood pressure.

How do They Work? Beta-Blockers vs Alpha-Blockers

As the names suggest, both these medications work by blocking certain receptors from stimulating, thereby supporting the treatment – or the specific medical conditions they’re prescribed for.

In short, Beta-blockers block the beta 1 and beta 2 receptors, whereas alpha-blockers block the alpha-adrenergic receptors.

Beta-Blockers

Beta-blockers block the beta 1 (heart) and beta 2 (lung) receptors from stimulating or exerting their effects.

Blocking the receptors affects the hormone epinephrine, also known as adrenaline, which is released as a result of the stimulated receptors.

The blocking effect either prevents or limits stimulation and enables your heart to beat slower and with less force, reducing blood pressure.

Apart from this, blocking beta 1 and beta 2 receptors helps open up your veins and arteries in the heart, improving blood flow and reducing the inbuilt pressure. 

Not only that, but beta-blockers also support your kidneys to block a hormone called angiotensin II, which also lowers blood pressure.

Alpha-Blockers

The ends of some nerves release a chemical called noradrenaline (norepinephrine) when the nerves are stimulated. This causes the nerves to, in turn, stimulate alpha-adrenergic receptors.

These receptors are a tiny structure that appear in different parts of the body. Some parts include the heart, blood vessels, and involuntary (smooth) muscles. 

The stimulation of these alpha-adrenergic receptors causes different effects in the body, which includes blood pressure and prostate gland enlargement.

So, as you can probably guess, alpha-blockers block the stimulation of alpha-adrenergic receptors. They do this by attaching to these receptors and stifling their effects.

Below is a guide on how alpha-blockers work for blood pressure and prostate gland enlargement.

  • For high blood pressure (hypertension) – For blood pressure, alpha-blockers work by relaxing blood vessels. This relaxation will allow the blood and oxygen to circulate freely with less inbuilt pressure. This will, in turn, reduce the strain in your heart and reduce one’s heartbeat. 
  • For prostate gland enlargement – For this, again, alpha-blockers relax the muscles around your bladder and your prostate gland. This relaxation helps men pass urine more easily. 

Types of Medications: Beta-Blockers vs Alpha-Blockers 

Beta-Blockers vs Alpha-Blockers

There are two types of beta-blockers, which include cardioselective and non-cardioselective beta-blockers.

Cardioselective beta-blockers only block the receptors and relating stimulation and exertion of beta 1(heart) receptors. This type is used by cardiologists, mostly because it only affects the heart and has lesser effects in other parts of the body.

Non-cardioselective receptors block both beta 1 (heart) and beta 2 (lung) receptors. 

There are also two types of alpha-blockers, which are selective and non-selective.

Non-selective alpha-blockers focus on both heart and prostrate areas and related stimulations. This is not suitable for men who want a medication for both blood pressure and prostate enlargement, because of the generalized treatment for both blood pressure and prostate enlargement.

On the other hand, selective alpha-blockers are focused more on prostate enlargement problems, making them more effective for men with prostate enlargement and relative episodes of blood pressure.

How Long They Take to Work: Beta-Blockers vs Alpha-Blockers

Beta-blockers take an hour or two to reach the full effect.

When it takes effect, a patient should feel a reduction in their heartbeat and anxiety, feeling more calm and relaxed. 

Alpha-blockers can be either long or short-acting.

Short-acting alpha-blockers work faster, but the effect lasts only or for a few hours. Long-acting alpha-blockers take a long time to work, but their effects last longer.

Cost: Beta-Blockers vs Alpha-Blockers

The cost of beta and alpha-blockers cannot be specified as there are several brands and variations of both these medications.

However, the lowest average retail price for beta-blockers is for OptiPranolol (Bausch & Lomb brand of metipranolol), which is $25.50 or more. The lowest average price for alpha-blockers is $8.89 which is for Flomax (tamsulosin).

This is only a rough estimation and these prices will vary depending on the pharmacy or insurance plan.

The beta-blocker or alpha-blocker you need could be significantly more than what you are expecting. If this is the case, then you can save money by enrolling in Prescription Hope’s program where you receive your medication at a set, affordable cost.

Effectiveness: Beta-Blockers vs Alpha-Blockers

We are almost comparing different medications designed to target different conditions. However, in general, for focused effectiveness, beta-blockers tend to be more effective because they are focused solely on blood pressure and similar cardiovascular diseases.

Alpha-blockers can be effective for treating high blood pressure if used in combination with other drugs, such as diuretics. As mentioned above, doctors will also prescribe alpha-blockers to treat or prevent an enlarged prostate. It is important to note that your doctor will never prescribe a medication to you unless they believe it will be effective.

Dual Receptor

There’s also a subclass of beta-blockers called alpha and beta dual receptor blockers. Dual receptor blockers are often prescribed to treat high blood pressure.

The drugs in this medication include carvedilol (Coreg), labetalol (Trandate), and dilevalol (Unicard). 

However, according to a study, the blood pressure-lowering rate of these dual receptor blockers is less than other classes of BP-lowering drugs. On average, dual receptor blockers lowered the systolic and diastolic numbers by 6 and 4 points, respectively. Even high doses of the medication did not have a significant effect on blood pressure.

Side Effects: Beta-Blockers vs Alpha-Blockers 

Side effects of beta-blockers include:

  • Cold hands or feet
  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Depression
  • Shortness of breath
  • Trouble sleeping

Side effects of alpha-blockers include:

  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Pounding heartbeat
  • Weakness

Also, find out how caffeine effects beta-blockers.

Conclusion

We hope this has provided you with some clarification around beta-blockers and alpha-blockers. As always, we recommend consulting your doctor for advice relevant to your circumstances and needs.

If you’re having trouble affording any of your medications, then Prescription Hope may be able to help. Enroll with us and see if you qualify to pay only $50 a month for each of your medications.



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