Skip to Main Content


Alpha- and beta-adrenoceptor-blocking agents are divided into primary subgroups on the basis of their receptor selectivity. All of these agents are pharmacologic antagonists or partial agonists and most are reversible and competitive in action. Because α and β blockers differ markedly in their effects and clinical applications, these drugs are considered separately in the following discussion.

Image not available.


A. Classification

Subdivisions of the α blockers are based on selective affinity for α1 versus α2 receptors or a lack thereof. Other features used to classify the α-blocking drugs are their reversibility and duration of action.

Irreversible, long-acting—Phenoxybenzamine is the prototypical long-acting α blocker; it differs from other adrenoceptor blockers in being irreversible in action. It is slightly α1-selective. Reversible, shorter-acting—Phentolamine is a competitive, reversible blocking agent that does not distinguish between α1 and α2 receptors. Alpha1-selective—Prazosin is a highly selective, reversible pharmacologic α1 blocker. Doxazosin, terazosin, and tamsulosin are similar drugs. The advantage of α1 selectivity is discussed in the following text. Alpha2-selective—Yohimbine and rauwolscine are α2-selective competitive pharmacologic antagonists. They are used primarily in research applications.

B. Pharmacokinetics

Alpha-blocking drugs are all active by the oral as well as the parenteral route, although phentolamine is rarely given orally. Phenoxybenzamine has a short elimination half-life but a long duration of action—about 48 h—because it binds covalently to its receptor. Phentolamine has a duration of action of 2–4 h when used orally and 20–40 min when given parenterally. Prazosin and the other α1-selective blockers act for 8–24 h.

Favorite Table | Download (.pdf) | Print
High-Yield Terms to Learn
Competitive blocker A surmountable antagonist (eg, phentolamine); one that can be overcome by increasing the dose of agonist
Epinephrine reversal Conversion of the pressor response to epinephrine (typical of large doses) to a blood pressure–lowering effect; caused by α blockers, which unmask the β2 vasodilating effects of epinephrine
Intrinsic sympathomimetic activity (ISA) Partial agonist action by adrenoceptor blockers; typical of several β blockers (eg, pindolol, acebutolol)
Irreversible blocker A nonsurmountable inhibitor, usually because of covalent bond formation (eg, phenoxybenzamine)
Membrane-stabilizing activity (MSA) Local anesthetic action; typical of several β blockers (eg, propranolol)
Orthostatic hypotension Hypotension that is most marked in the upright position; caused by venous pooling (typical of α blockade) or inadequate blood volume (caused by blood loss or excessive diuresis)
Partial agonist A drug (eg, pindolol) that produces a smaller maximal effect than a full agonist and therefore can inhibit the effect of a full agonist
Pheochromocytoma A tumor consisting of cells that release varying amounts of norepinephrine and epinephrine into the circulation

C. Mechanism of Action

Phenoxybenzamine binds covalently to the α receptor, thereby producing an irreversible (insurmountable) blockade. ...

Pop-up div Successfully Displayed

This div only appears when the trigger link is hovered over. Otherwise it is hidden from view.