OCT 01, 2016 10:12 AM PDT

How Does an Anti-Anxiety Medication also Treat Heart Attacks?

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

In a doctor's arsenal of drugs, beta-blockers, such as propranolol, are commonly prescribed for heart attacks as well as anxiety. But how can the same medication work in two seemingly disparate conditions?

As it turns out, the biological underpinnings of a heart attack and a severe panic attack aren't all that different. The body's sympathetic nervous system's primary response is to stimulate a "fight-or-flight" response. When this system gets erratic, the body can get revved up to disabling proportions. As a result, in both heart and panic attacks, the symptoms can appear quite similar, including tremors, abnormal heart rhythms, and shortness of breath.

Beta-blockers act on the beta-adrenergic receptors of the sympathetic nervous system. They prevent adrenaline and noradrenaline from binding to the receptors and thus, the fight-or-flight response is dampened. In essence, the beta-blockers soothe the sympathetic nervous system, which treats the symptoms of heart attacks and panic attacks.
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
DEC 22, 2019
Plants & Animals
DEC 22, 2019
Ever Wonder What Happens Inside a Clam's Shell?
Most people think of clams as a gooey blob inside of a two-piece shell, but there’s actually a lot more going on inside that shell that you might com...
DEC 28, 2019
Health & Medicine
DEC 28, 2019
Consider Skipping The Post-Workout Ice Bath
In an effort to get heart-healthy, many people have experienced the painful after-effects of an intense workout. Weather cardiovascular or strength trainin...
DEC 31, 2019
Space & Astronomy
DEC 31, 2019
Why Does This Star Dim Unpredictably?
KIC 8462852, also known as Tabby’s Star or the infamous ‘alien megastructure star,’ is peculiar because the star’s light seems to d...
JAN 14, 2020
Plants & Animals
JAN 14, 2020
Male Hippos Must Challenge the Overlord for Mating Rights
Hippos are in constant need of water, not only because they need to drink, but because they need to stay cool. As this particular lagoon begins to dry up,...
JAN 16, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
JAN 16, 2020
Self-healable Sweat Sensor Fears No Wear and Tear
Sweat can provide a lot of information about a person's health. One of the current trends in wearable technology is to incorporate sweat sensing mechan...
JAN 27, 2020
Plants & Animals
JAN 27, 2020
This Octopus Emerges From the Water in Search of Food
Most octopuses live and breathe underwater, just like the vast majority of other marine animals. But this octopus endemic to Australia has a special abilit...
Loading Comments...