Cold and flu medications pose risks for those with high blood pressure

Purchasing over-the-counter medications is a quick and easy way to relieve the daily coughing, sneezing, and aching that accompanies that pesky cold or flu.

All medications, however, carry risks of side effects and bad interactions, even over-the-counter meds. This warning is particularly specific to those suffering from high blood pressure.

You may want to steer clear of some of these over-the-counter meds as they can increase blood pressure and interfere with blood pressure medication. Common medications that can affect blood pressure levels are decongestants, pain relievers, and anti-inflammatory medications.

Decongestants can cause narrowing of blood vessels throughout the body. Certain pain relievers and anti-inflammatory meds may cause water retention, increasing the chance of raising your blood pressure.

Studies show that most people have a minimal increase in blood pressure after taking common cold meds and decongestants. If you have high blood pressure, try a cold or flu medication that is free of decongestants.

Learn what works for you

If you have high blood pressure, educate yourself before you decide to take over-the-counter medication:

Read labels

Many over-the-counter medicines are labeled safe for people with high blood pressure—keep a watchful eye out for these labels. Also be sure to look out for medications that having a warning label such as “Do not use this product if you have heart disease, high blood pressure, etc.”

Avoid excess salt

One reason many over-the-counter meds increase blood pressure is due to large amounts of salt (also listed as sodium or soda). If you have high blood pressure, aim for 1,500 mg of sodium or less per day, including sodium found in many over-the-counter medicines.

Keep an eye on your blood pressure

When you begin taking an over-the-counter medication, make sure to monitor your blood pressure if you have or are at risk for high blood pressure.

Play it safe

Talk with your doctor about any over-the-counter medications you take or plan to take if you have high blood pressure.

A final note

Consider making lifestyle changes to improve your blood pressure. University of Iowa cardiologist Ramzi El Accaoui, M.D., recommends eating healthy, limiting alcohol consumption, daily exercise, weight loss, and smoking cessation to help prevent and treat high blood pressure.

Last reviewed: 
January 2016

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