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Hair Loss Side Effect from Beta Blockers Is Devastating

Most medications come with a pretty long list of potential adverse reactions. When a health professional prescribes a medicine, such as a beta blocker for the heart or high blood pressure, the chances are that she will focus on the drug complications that seem serious such as slow heart rate, insomnia, digestive distress, sexual difficulties or dizziness. Many doctors may consider a hair loss side effect as a minor problem. But for some people this is a very big deal. This reader shares her emotional distress.

A Hair Loss Side Effect Story:

Q. I am very upset about a side effect of beta blockers. These drugs are widely prescribed for blood pressure and other problems and a huge number of people are taking them. But they make our hair fall out! This is devastating for a woman.

I have appealed to my cardiologist to help me with this problem and she has offered to switch me from carvedilol (Coreg) to metoprolol (Toprol). If this doesn’t work, what’ll I do?

A. Beta blockers like atenolol, carvedilol, metoprolol and propranolol can lead to hair loss. No one knows how common this complication is because it has not been considered a serious side effect (by researchers and doctors). Patients have a very different perspective!).

One reader reported her experience with a different beta blocker:

“I started drastically losing my hair soon after starting on atenolol. My doctor was reluctant to take me off of it since it was working so well in lowering my blood pressure. But there are many meds to take for hypertension, so don’t let your doctor keep you on any one medication if you are experiencing side effects that bother you.

“Hair loss from atenolol IS reversible. My hair grew back completely in less than six months. It’s taken me a few years of trial and error to find the drugs that work best for my blood pressure without side effects.”

Hair Loss Side Effect Research?

We have been disappointed with the amount and quality of the research into this issue. Most everyone knows that certain chemotherapeutic drugs for cancer treatment cause baldness. Surprisingly little attention has been paid to hair thinning brought on by common medicines.

Dutch researchers have reported (Nederlands Tijdschrift Geneeskunde, May 8, 1999):

 “Hairs are produced in hair follicles that have a cyclic activity. The cycles that normal hair follicles go through are the metabolically active anagen phase, the catagen transitional phase and the resting telogen phase. Loss of more than 120 hairs daily is called alopecia. Drugs typically cause a diffuse, reversible alopecia by influencing one of the cycles that hair follicles go through.”

Some of the medications discovered to cause alopecia (hair loss) by the Dutch researchers include:

  • ACE inhibitors for high blood pressure
  • Anticancer chemo drugs
  • Anticoagulants
  • Antimalaria medicines
  • ARBs for high blood pressure
  • Beta Blockers
  • Lithium carbonate

We are sending you our Guides to Blood Pressure Treatment and Hair and Nail Care so that you will know which common drugs cause hair loss.

Revised 5/18/18

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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