Exploring GPs’ views on beta-blocker prescribing for people with anxiety disorders: a qualitative study

Charlotte S Archer*, David S Kessler, Nicola J Wiles, Carolyn A Chew-Graham, Katrina M Turner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

Abstract

Background: Between 2003-2018, incident prescriptions of beta-blockers for anxiety increased substantially, particularly in young adults. NICE guidance for anxiety does not recommend beta-blockers, probably due to a lack of evidence to support such use. Recent reports have highlighted the potential risks of beta-blockers.

Aim: To understand when and why GPs prescribe beta-blockers for people with anxiety.

Design and setting: In-depth interviews with 17 GPs.

Method: Interviews were held by telephone or videocall. A topic guide was used to ensure consistency across interviews. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim and analysed thematically.

Results: Many GPs viewed beta-blockers as ‘low-risk’, particularly in young adults. Some GPs viewed beta-blockers as an alternative to benzodiazepines, acting quickly and not leading to dependence. GPs reflected that some patients appeared to want an ‘immediate fix’ to their symptoms which GPs thought beta-blockers could potentially offer. This was salient in light of substantial waiting lists for talking therapies and delays in antidepressants taking effect. GPs described how some patients seemed more willing to try beta-blockers than antidepressants, as patients did not perceive them as‘mental health drugs’ and therefore potentially more acceptable and less stigmatising. Further, GPs viewed beta-blockers as ‘patient-led’, with patients managing their own dose and frequency, without GP input.

Conclusion: Many GPs think beta-blockers have a role to play in the management of anxiety. Given recent increases in the prescribing of these drugs in primary care, there is a need to assess their safety and effectiveness as a treatment for people with anxiety disorders.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal of General Practice
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 28 May 2024

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