Sondra DePalma – OTC medicine warning for those with high blood pressure
Sondra DePalma, physician assistant at the PinnacleHealth CardioVascular Institute at UPMC Pinnacle in Pennsylvania.
We’re still in the midst of flu season, and winter colds are making their rounds. If you've been hit by either, you may reach for medicine at the pharmacy to relieve your aches, pains and congestion.
But for those with a history of heart disease, stroke or high blood pressure, you need to consider how some over-the-counter cold medicines may impact your health.
Sondra DePalma, DHSc, PA-C, a co-author of the 2017 American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology guidelines on the management of high blood pressure in adults, shares some tips for navigating cold and flu season:
- People with uncontrolled high blood pressure or heart disease should avoid taking oral decongestants. These medicines – like pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine – constrict blood vessels and can increase blood pressure.
- Blood pressure guidelines suggest using decongestants for the shortest duration possible or using an alternative such as nasal saline or antihistamines to help with congestion.
- Decongestants shouldn't be taken longer than seven days before consulting with a health care provider.
- The guidelines also list non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), found in many cold medicines, as medications that can increase blood pressure. NSAIDs such as ibuprofen and naproxen are used for pain and fever relief.
- There are alternative pain relievers, such as topical pain relievers and acetaminophen, that are safer if you have high blood pressure.
- Read labels. Warnings for heart patients are often included on the box of medicine. You can also look for labels that say a medicine is safe for people with high blood pressure
- If you have high blood pressure, ask your healthcare provider what medicine is best to relieve your symptoms.
- Even if your cardiovascular risk is low, you should use over-the-counter medicines for as short a time as possible and check with your health care provider if your symptoms persist.
Merely having a cold or the flu is a stress on your body, including your heart and blood vessels. Fighting the illness raises the heart rate and causes inflammation.
There are effective therapies that are less risky and definitely should be tried first. If other over-the-counter medications are needed, use them cautiously.