Khloé Kardashian says she takes Kris Jenner's beta-blockers. What do they do? Is it safe?

Jenna Ryu
USA TODAY
  • On a new episode of Hulu's "The Kardashians," Khloé Kardashian says she took Kris Jenner's beta-blocker.
  • Beta-blockers are medications used primarily for uneven heart rate but can also be prescribed for anxiety.
  • Dr. Sheldon Zablow explains what beta-blockers do and how they work to alleviate anxiety symptoms.

From her physical appearance to her family life, Khloé Kardashian is no stranger to public scrutiny. And her mental health coping techniques are no exception.

During the third episode of "The Kardashians" on Hulu, the reality star becomes stressed while planning Travis Barker's proposal to her sister, Kourtney

"I'm literally getting hives," she says in a confessional. "I just have to have faith and a beta-blocker."

This isn't the first time Khloé talked about beta-blockers to calm her nerves. In last week's episode, she got candid about her ongoing battle with anxiety, low self-esteem and body image. She described how she is impacted by the negative comments she sees on social media. 

"It's so easy for people to say, 'If you don’t know them, don't pay attention'," Khloé told friend Malika Haqq during the episode. "But when you're walking down the street and even paparazzi (are) heckling at you the same things you're trying to avoid, it's so deteriorating on your self-esteem, your confidence, the way that you view yourself." 

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She then discussed taking a beta-blocker belonging to her mother Kris Jenner to calm her. In the episode, she brought up beta-blockers once while talking to Haqq and her mother mentions the medication again when they are backstage ahead of Kardashian's appearance on "The Late Late Show with James Corden." 

According to Mayo Clinic, beta-blockers are commonly used to reduce blood pressure and regulate heart rhythm. Though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have not approved them for the treatment of anxiety specifically, medical experts say the pills can be an option for those with event-related or performance anxiety like social phobia or stage fright.

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What are beta-blockers, and how do they work?

Unlike antidepressants or benzodiazepines like Xanax, beta-blockers don't change a person's brain chemistry. Rather, they are prescription medications that temporarily block the body's physiological responses to anxiety like increased heart rate, tightness in chest or rapid breathing, depending on the type of beta-blocker used.

Dr. Sheldon Zablow, a psychiatrist based in San Diego, says beta-blockers are best for those who get anxious before specific events, like an important presentation or interview. It would be especially helpful for those like Kardashian, who said the anxiety of running into paparazzi made her feel like she was physically "having a heart attack."

"You can take them situationally. If you can anticipate when you're going to be anxious and you take it before, it can help you get through the experience much easier," Zablow says, noting that they typically work within 10 minutes and effects last approximately three hours.

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According to Zablow, beta-blockers are "fairly safe" with few side effects including fatigue and sexual dysfunction, though it is advised you avoid rigorous exercise if you've taken the medication. However, for those with pre-existing conditions like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), beta-blockers can be dangerous and even lethal, according to Dr. Collin Reiff, a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at NYU Langone Health.

"Beta-blockers like propranolol can lead to a bronchospasm in those with asthma or COPD," Reiff says. "It can also mask hypoglycemic episodes, so you have to be especially mindful if you have diabetes ."

For this reason, medical experts advise against using someone else's prescriptions. 

"You don't know how your body will react to the dosage. It's super dangerous because these are medications prescribed for a reason by a medical doctor," Reiff explains. "Let's say you have asthma and you don't know it, and you take beta-blockers. Then you may have a bronchospasm and you're done."

Zablow also cautions that beta-blockers are only a short-term solution for performance-related anxiety. 

"If someone has mild anxiety but it's particularly debilitating when you're in front of people or reporters, beta-blockers may be all that they need. But if someone has more severe anxiety that occurs almost all the time, that would require treatments like anti-depressants."

The bottom line? Beta-blockers might be right for some people but not everyone and you should check with your practitioner and seek help from a qualified medical professional if you need help coping with anxiety. 

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