Propranolol: The Anxiety and Migraine Drug

Propranolol: The Anxiety and Migraine Drug
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

Propranolol is possibly the most widely known drug used to treat social anxiety. It is a very effective relaxant, helping with tachycardia, general tension, and sweating. This beta-blocker is also prescribed to treat migraines and headaches, and even has the potential to prevent heart problems in people who have suffered from angina.

At first glance, this medication may seem like a “magic bullet”. However, its mechanism of action is based only on one very specific aspect: being a beta-blockerIts active principle, propanol, acts as an antagonist of adrenaline and noradrenaline. Therefore, it regulates blood pressure, lowers heart rate, and reduces physiological symptoms related to anxiety.

Propranolol is a beta-blocker drug. It reduces blood pressure, anxiety, and tremors, as well as headaches and migraines. 

Propranolol is one of the most common treatments for social phobia and stage fright. However, today we know that some people resort to the drug almost as an “emotional crutch”. Anytime they feel fearful, anxious, or worried, they turn to this drug.


Social anxiety

A few years ago, the Daily Mail published an article that discussed the impact of propranolol on our society. Some people use the drug to mask emotions instead of managing them. They opt to numb the physiological reaction caused by these emotions. They need to be functional at any cost, even their health.

The article discussed the cases of several people. For example, we have Laura Woodward, 30 years old. She has been taking propranolol since she was a teenager. It has enabled her to deal with anxiety-generating situations: meeting friends, taking exams, driving, going to parties, making appointments, etc.

Dr. Natasha Bijlani, consulting psychiatrist specializing in mental health at the Priory Hospital in London, says Ms. Woodward’s example is not isolated. There are many people who seek treatment for the symptoms of anxiety without asking about its cause. They don’t wonder what they could do to better respond to these everyday situations.

Thus, despite the fact that it does not cause dependency, people do become dependent on it, in another sense. Relaxing and having more control over your body is always positive and beneficial. However, it’s even more beneficial to understand and manage your emotions and mind. Then you can handle any situation.

Anxiety and a headache.

Uses of propranolol

This drug is as effective as it is useful in many aspects. As we pointed out, its main action is to inhibit hormones that mediate stress or physiological over-activation: adrenaline and noradrenaline.

Now, most of the characteristics of propranolol focus on the cardiovascular system. By regulating the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, it manages to reduce heart rate, tremors, sweating, and digestive problems. It helps with:

  • Patients who have overcome an angina pectoris or a cardiac infarction.
  • People who get migraines or tension headaches, since it is a vasodilator.
  • Thyroid issues.
  • Glaucoma (related to hypertension).

Side effects

Propranolol is not only a psychotropic drug. Its clinical uses go beyond the psychiatric field and, as we can deduce by its mechanism of action, it is practically indispensable for people with heart problems. Still, that doesn’t mean it has no side effects; we can’t take it whenever we want.

As always, professionals should be the ones to prescribe and monitor use of this medication because propranolol can present an adverse symptomatology in cases of abuse. Let’s look at these adverse symptoms below:

  • Sensation of extreme tiredness
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Changes to dreams, especially nightmares
  • Cold hands and feet (circulation is poor in the extremities, due to low pulse)
  • Raynaud’s disease: numbness and spasms in the fingers, as well as pain and a sensation of heat
Stress in the car.

Finally, we must warn you that the drug should not be used in cases of asthma, hypotension, kidney problems, or diabetes. It’s best to consult with your doctor.

To sum up, propranolol is useful, especially for social anxiety. However, let’s not forget that chemistry is only effective in alleviating symptoms; it cannot solve the problem. For that, we have psychotherapy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.