Upon my first year of law school, my anxiety was worse than it had ever been before. I nearly went into panic attacks when cold called by my professors. It was so bad that when I heard them recite my name, my hands immediately started to tremble and my voice would shake so badly that I couldn’t speak coherently. I knew that I needed to remedy this issue if I wanted to make it through my 1L year, so I went to my doctor.
I would describe myself as an advocate for the use of pharmaceutical drugs in treating health issues. I’ve never been the type that was opposed to taking medications and opting for natural remedies instead. However, since law school requires me to have a sharp memory, particularly in the case of being cold called, I knew that now my drug options were limited. Benzodiazepines like Valium, Klonopin, and Xanax would all cause me to be drowsy and negatively affect my memory. Due to this, benzos had to be ruled out as anxiety “fixers.” I had already tried Vistaril (hydroxyzine), but it made me even drowsier than Benadryl and I struggled to stay alert during class. Finally, I discovered the mighty beta blocker.
Beta blockers are normally prescribed for patients who suffer from heart problems. The primary purpose of beta blockers is the reduction of blood pressure. They work by blocking the reception sites of adrenergic beta receptors. In other words, they block your adrenaline receptors, which causes your heart beat to slow down. This is how it aids sufferers of anxiety disorder. By slowing down the heart, beta blockers prevent a person’s body from going into the fight-or-flight response when anxious. Because of this, beta blockers cure the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as trembling, incoherent speech, sweating, and feelings of embarrassment. The most commonly prescribed beta-blocker is propranolol (aka Inderal).
My doctor started me on 20mg of propranolol, but I would double dose before each class. I will admit that the benefits of the drug are amazing, because for the first time, I was able to survive a cold call without feeling like I was going to faint. My hands were still, I was able to speak as though I hadn’t been called, and I didn’t feel embarrassed about any errors. I had thought that it was a match made in heaven, but unfortunately, like all good things, that had to come to an end.
During the first month of taking propranolol, I had started to notice that my body was showing signs of psoriasis. On my scalp, neck, and hands, I was experiencing large dry patches that were red in color and itchy. I had never thought to link the psoriasis to propranolol and instead attributed it to stress from midterm exams. But even after my midterms, the psoriasis didn’t go away and my skin remained dry and itchy. Then, three months later, I noticed that my hair was starting to thin. I hoped that this was not also due to stress, as all the men in my family seem to retain thick hair until at least their 50s. That being said, I didn’t want hair loss to be my body’s new response to stress. But then, I started to think.
Eventually, I realized that I was consistently overlooking the side effects of propranolol because it had benefited my anxiety so much. Unfortunately, I later discovered that experiencing hair loss two to four months after starting propranolol is among the top 6 most common side effects of using the drug. This was supported by a 1987 article included in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. I also found that 25 to 30 percent of patients who take propranolol experience psoriasis, or the worsening of psoriasis in patients who already have it.
Don’t get me wrong, maybe fixing anxiety is worth losing your hair or experiencing skin rashes for some, but for me, I think not. I understand and sympathize with people who need propranolol for heart issues, but those who are looking for anxiety remedies should take precaution before turning to propranolol. I think it’s safe to say that hair thinning and skin rashes alone may be enough to cause anxiety.
For a list of other propranolol side effects, click here.
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