• Clinical science

Beta-2 adrenergic agonists


β2 adrenergic agonists are used in pulmonology as bronchodilators, in obstetrics as tocolytic agents, and to manage patients with hyperkalemia. There are both short-acting and long-acting β2 agonists, and their duration of action determines their clinical application. Their effects are achieved through β2 receptor stimulation. Side effects are partially mediated by the β1 receptor and include anxiety and tremor, as well as life-threatening conditions such as ventricular arrhythmias.


  • All β2 adrenergic agonists selectively stimulate β2 adrenergic receptors.
    • Relaxes bronchial smooth muscle
Characteristic Agent Onset of action Duration of action
Short-acting beta agonists (SABA)
  • 1–5 min
  • 4–6 h
Long-acting beta agonists (LABA)
  • 1–5 min
  • ≥ 12 h
  • 30–45 min


Adverse effects

Paradoxical bronchospasm may occur!


We list the most important adverse effects. The selection is not exhaustive.


Salmeterol should not be used as monotherapy during an acute asthma attack!




We list the most important contraindications. The selection is not exhaustive.

Additional considerations

  • A face mask is recommended for children < 4 years on inhalational therapy.
  • 1. Ohar JA, Donohue JF. Mono- and Combination Therapy of Long-acting Bronchodilators and Inhaled Corticosteroids in Advanced COPD. Semin Respir Crit Care Med. 2010; 31(3): pp. 321–333. doi: 10.1055/s-0030-1254072.
  • 2. Ejiofor S, Turner AM. Pharmacotherapies for COPD. Clin Med Insights Circ Respir Pulm Med. 2013; 7: p. CCRPM.S7211. doi: 10.4137/ccrpm.s7211.
  • 3. Medscape. Albuterol (Rx). In: Albuterol (Rx). New York, NY: WebMD. http://reference.medscape.com/drug/proventil-hfa-ventolin-hfa-albuterol-343426#0. Updated February 18, 2017. Accessed February 18, 2017.
  • 4. Bell DS. Advantages of a third-generation β-blocker in patients with diabetes mellitus. Am J Cardiol. 2004; 93(9): pp. 49–52. doi: 10.1016/j.amjcard.2004.01.026.
  • 5. Viera AJ, Wouk N. Potassium disorders: Hypokalemia and hyperkalemia. Am Fam Physician. 2015; 92(6): pp. 487–495. url: http://www.aafp.org/afp/2015/0915/p487.html.
  • 6. Lam F, Gill P. β-Agonist Tocolytic Therapy. Obstet Gynecol Clin North Am. 2005; 32(3): pp. 457–484. doi: 10.1016/j.ogc.2005.05.001.
  • Herold G. Internal Medicine. Cologne, Germany: Herold G; 2014.
last updated 10/16/2020
{{uncollapseSections(['qIbCdE', '7Ib4VE', 'HIbKVE', 'sIbtVE', 'GIbBVE', 'pkcLKc0'])}}