Atenolol (Tenormin) is a selective β1 receptor antagonist, a drug belonging to the group of beta blockers (sometimes written β-blockers), a class of drugs used primarily in cardiovascular diseases. Introduced in 1976, atenolol was developed as a replacement for propranolol in the treatment of hypertension. The chemical works by slowing down the heart and reducing its workload. Unlike propranolol, atenolol does not pass through the blood-brain barrier thus avoiding various central nervous system side effects.
Atenolol is one of the most widely used β-blockers in the United Kingdom and was once the first-line treatment for hypertension. The role for β-blockers in hypertension was downgraded in June 2006 in the United Kingdom to fourth-line, as they perform less appropriately or effectively than newer drugs, particularly in the elderly. Some evidence suggests that even in normal doses the most frequently used β-blockers carry an unacceptable risk of provoking type 2 diabetes.
Atenolol can be used to treat cardiovascular diseases and conditions such as hypertension, coronary heart disease, arrhythmias, angina (chest pain) and to treat and reduce the risk of heart complications following myocardial infarction (heart attack). It is also used to treat the symptoms of Graves Disease, until antithyroid medication can take effect.
Due to its hydrophilic properties, the drug is less suitable in migraine prophylaxis compared to propranolol, because, for this indication, atenolol would have to reach the brain in high concentrations, which is not the case (see below).
Cardioselectivity and asthma:
Atenolol is classified as a β1-selective (or ‘cardioselective’) drug, one that exerts greater blocking activity on myocardial β1-receptors than on β2 receptors in the lung. The β2 receptors are responsible for keeping the bronchial system open. If these receptors are blocked, bronchospasm with serious lack of oxygen in the body can result. However, due to its cardioselective properties, the risk of bronchospastic reactions if using atenolol is reduced compared to nonselective drugs as propranolol. Nonetheless, this reaction may also be encountered with atenolol at high doses. Although traditionally B-blockers have been contraindicated when a person carries a diagnosis of asthma, recent studies have revealed that at moderate doses selective B blockers such as Atenolol are well tolerated.
Provisional data suggests that antihypertensive therapy with atenolol provides weaker protective action against cardiovascular complications (e.g. myocardial infarction and stroke) compared to other antihypertensive drugs. In some cases, diuretics are superior. However, controlled studies are lacking.
Unlike most other commonly-used β-blockers, atenolol is excreted almost exclusively by the kidneys. This makes it attractive for use in individuals with end-stage liver disease.