OTC Medicines and Your Heart
OTC Medicines and Your Heart

If you’ve been diagnosed with hypertension, your doctor has probably prescribed lifestyle changes and possibly even a drug regimen to control your high blood pressure. Taking these steps can be lifesaving measures for people at risk of heart attack or stroke. However, recent studies have found that commonly used over-the-counter (OTC) drugs can be harmful to people with hypertension and result in dangerous interactions with your medication.

There are two types of OTC drugs that pose the biggest risks for people with high blood pressure: NSAIDS and decongestants.

Although generally safe for treating minor aches, pains, and fevers in people without hypertension, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) like ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®) and naproxen sodium (Aleve®) can cause you to retain fluid and decrease kidney function, which will raise your blood pressure. You should ask your doctor for an alternative, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®), if you find that you need to take pain relievers occasionally.

Decongestants are even worse on your hypertension than NSAIDS. When you take a decongestant to relieve sinus pressure or allergies, it works by constricting blood vessels in your nose. Unfortunately, it does the same thing all over your body, which can cause problems for people with high blood pressure. Decongestants also raise your heart rate and prevent your hypertension medication from working properly. If you’re suffering from congestion and pressure, try nasal irrigation, saline sprays, using a humidifier, and staying hydrated. It might not be as fast acting as simply popping a couple of Sudafed®, but it’s a lot safer.

Hidden Dangers
While it may sound simple enough to avoid ibuprofen and decongestants, it’s important also to be careful when taking OTC medication for colds and flu, which may contain one or both of these types of drugs.

Read the Label
The best way to protect yourself is to read the label carefully when purchasing any OTC pain-relievers or cold medicines. If you’re unsure of certain drugs listed on the packaging, ask the pharmacist or your doctor. There’s almost always an alternative that won’t interfere with or exacerbate your high blood pressure.