Propranolol

About propranolol

Propranolol belongs to a group of medicines called beta blockers. It's used to treat heart problems, help with anxiety and prevent migraines.

If you have a heart problem, you can take propranolol to:

Propranolol can help reduce your symptoms if you have too much thyroid hormone in your body (thyrotoxicosis). You'll usually take it together with medicines to treat an overactive thyroid.

This medicine is only available on prescription. It comes as tablets, slow release capsules, or as a liquid that you swallow.

Key facts

Who can and cannot take propranolol

Most adults and children aged 12 and over can take propranolol. But it is not officially approved for treating high blood pressure in children under 12 years old.

Propranolol is not suitable for everyone. To make sure it's safe for you, tell your doctor before starting to take propranolol if you:

How and when to take propranolol

Propranolol comes as 2 different types of medicine:

If you are taking it once a day, your doctor may advise you to take your first dose before bedtime, because it can make you feel dizzy. After the first dose, if you do not feel dizzy, take propranolol in the morning.

Important

Keep taking propranolol even if you feel well. You will still be getting the benefits of the medicine.

Dosage and strength

Propranolol tablets come in strengths of 10mg, 40mg, 80mg or 160mg. The slow release capsules are 80mg or 160mg. The liquid comes in strengths of 5mg, 10mg, 40mg or 50mg in 5ml.

How much you take depends on why you need propranolol.

The usual doses for adults are:

Doses are usually lower for people aged over 65 or people with a kidney or liver problem.

If your child needs propranolol, your doctor will usually use your child's weight to work out the right dose.

How to take it

Propranolol does not usually upset your stomach so you can take it with or without food. It's best to do the same each day.

Swallow the tablets whole with a drink of water. If you find the tablets difficult to swallow, some brands have a score line to help you break the tablet in half. Check the information leaflet for your brand to see if you can do this.

If you're taking capsules, swallow them whole with a drink of water. Do not break, chew or crush them.

If you're taking propranolol as a liquid, it will come with a plastic syringe or spoon to help you measure out the right dose. If you do not have one, ask your pharmacist for one. Do not use a kitchen teaspoon as it will not measure the right amount of medicine.

If you forget to take it

If you forget to take a dose of propranolol, take it as soon as you remember, unless it's nearly time for your next dose. In this case, just leave out the missed dose and take your next dose at the usual time.

Never take 2 doses at the same time. Never take an extra dose to make up for a forgotten one.

If you often forget doses, it may help to set an alarm to remind you. You could also ask your pharmacist for advice on other ways to help you remember to take your medicine.

If you take too much

An overdose of propranolol can slow down your heart rate and make it difficult to breathe. It can also cause dizziness and trembling.

The amount of propranolol that can lead to an overdose varies from person to person.

Contact 111 for advice now if:

  • you take more than your prescribed dose of propranolol

Call 111 or go to 111 online

If you need to go to A&E, do not drive yourself. Get someone else to drive you or call for an ambulance.

Take the propranolol packet or leaflet inside it plus any remaining medicine with you.

Side effects

Common side effects

Like all medicines, propranolol can cause side effects in some people, but many people have no side effects or only minor ones.

Side effects often improve as your body gets used to the medicine.

These common side effects happen in more than 1 in 100 people. They're usually mild and short-lived.

Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if the side effects bother you or last more than a few days:

Serious side effects

It happens rarely, but some people have serious side effects when taking propranolol.

Tell a doctor or contact 111 straight away if:

Go to 111.nhs.uk or call 111.

Call 999 or go to A&E now if:

  • you have shortness of breath with a cough which gets worse when you exercise (like walking up stairs), swollen ankles or legs, chest pain, or an irregular heartbeat – these are signs of heart problems
  • you have shortness of breath, wheezing and tightening of your chest – these can be signs of lung problems

Serious allergic reaction

In rare cases, propranolol may cause a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis).

These are not all the side effects of propranolol. For a full list, see the leaflet inside your medicine packet.

How to cope with side effects of propranolol

What to do about:

Pregnancy and breastfeeding

Propranolol and pregnancy

Propranolol is not thought to be harmful during pregnancy, but it may affect your baby's growth in later pregnancy. Discuss taking propranolol with your doctor or midwife as you may need extra scans to check your baby's growth.

If you're trying to get pregnant or you're already pregnant, talk to your doctor about the benefits and possible harms of taking propranolol. There may be other medicines that are better to use during pregnancy.

Propranolol and breastfeeding

If your doctor or health visitor says that your baby is healthy, it's OK to take propranolol while breastfeeding.

Propranolol passes into breast milk in tiny amounts. It has not been known to cause any side effects in breastfed babies.

It's important to treat your high blood pressure to keep you well. Breastfeeding will also benefit both you and your baby.

If you notice that your baby is not feeding as well as usual, or seems unusually sleepy, or if you have any other concerns about your baby, then talk to your doctor or health visitor.

For more information about how propranolol can affect you and your baby during pregnancy, visit the Best Use of Medicines in Pregnancy (BUMPS) website.

Cautions with other medicines

Mixing propranolol with herbal remedies or supplements

There are some medicines that may affect the way propranolol works.

Tell your doctor if you're taking:

There's very little information about taking herbal remedies and supplements with propranolol. They are not tested in the same way as pharmacy and prescription medicines.

Common questions about propranolol

How does propranolol work? How long does propranolol take to work? How long will I take it for? Can I take propranolol for a long time? What will happen if I stop taking it? How does propranolol compare with other heart medicines? How does it compare with other medicines for preventing migraine? How does it compare with other medicines for anxiety? Will I need to stop taking propranolol before surgery? Can I drink alcohol with it? Is there any food or drink I need to avoid? Will it make me put on weight? Will it affect my contraception? Will it affect my fertility? Will it affect my sex life? Do I need to avoid playing sports? Can I drive or ride a bike? Can lifestyle changes help?