Purpose: To review the clinical and biochemical effects of beta-adrenergic blocking drugs on hyperthyroidism.
Materials and methods: Studies published since 1972 were identified through a computerized search of MEDLINE and extensive searching of the bibliographies of the articles identified. Based on an understanding of the differences in beta-blocker metabolism in euthyroid and hyperthyroid patients, we reviewed the differences in pharmacokinetics and metabolic and clinical outcomes during their use in hyperthyroidism, as reported in the articles reviewed.
Results: beta Blockers have been used to modify the severity of the hyperadrenergic symptoms of hyperthyroidism for the past 20 years. The clinical efficacy of these agents is affected by hyperthyroid-induced alterations in their gastrointestinal absorption, hepatic metabolism, and renal excretion. The mechanisms whereby these clinical changes are effected is unknown. The agents differ in their beta 1 cardioselectivity, membrane-stabilizing activity, intrinsic sympathomimetic activity, and lipid solubility. They do not appear to alter synthesis or secretion of thyroid hormone by the thyroid gland. Their effects on thyroxine metabolism are contradictory. Decreased thyroxine to triiodothyronine conversion is caused by some, but not all, beta blockers, and this appears to correlate with membrane-stabilizing activity. There does not appear to be any alteration in catecholamine sensitivity during beta-adrenergic blockade.
Conclusions: The principal mechanism of action of beta blockers in hyperthyroidism is to antagonize beta-receptor-mediated effects of catecholamines. beta Blockers are effective in treating hypermetabolic symptoms in a variety of hyperthyroid states. Used alone, they offer significant symptomatic relief. They are also useful adjuvants to antithyroid medications, surgery, and radioactive iodide treatment in patients with Graves' disease and toxic nodular goiters.