Heart Health and OTC Medicine

If you suffer from hypertension, you’re not alone: One in three adults in the United States has high blood pressure, a health concern that increases your risk of heart disease and stroke.

If your doctor diagnoses you with high blood pressure, you’ll need to make several changes to your daily routine – including watching what you eat, modifying your exercise routine and taking any medications as prescribed. But you’ll also need to be cautious with any over-the-counter medications you take. While most OTCs are safe to take, some may increase blood pressure or cause adverse reactions when paired with prescribed blood pressure medications.

Remember, it’s always important to carefully read the labels on OTC medication – and this becomes even more important when you have hypertension. If your blood pressure is over 120/80 mm Hg or if you are taking prescription medication for your blood pressure, talk to your doctor before taking any OTC medicines or supplements.

People with controlled hypertension should take care when using any of the following types of OTC medications:

  • Decongestants. These common cold medications work by narrowing the blood vessels in your nose and sinuses, which helps relieve your symptoms by tamping down swelling and draining excess fluid.  But decongestants may contribute to higher blood pressure by narrowing blood vessels elsewhere in your body. In addition, if your allergy or cold medicines contain pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine,  talk to your doctor; both of those ingredients can interfere with your prescribed blood pressure medications.
  • Some OTC medications have a high sodium content, which increases blood pressure by making your body retain water. Look at the ingredients label for words like “sodium” or “soda,” and try to pick alternatives with a lower salt content. People with hypertension should get less than 1,500 mg of salt per day – and certain OTC medicines might contain more than your daily allowance.

Aspirin and Heart Health
You may have heard that taking an aspirin a day can help keep the doctor away by preventing heart attack or stroke. However, many people are surprised to learn that directions for taking aspirin preventatively are on the OTC medicine label.  Before starting to take aspirin daily, be sure to talk to your doctor about the potential benefits and risks of taking aspirin daily and whether it should be part of your heart-health treatment plan.

Meet Our Experts

Private: James Beckerman, M.D.

Dr. James Beckerman is a cardiologist with the Providence Heart and Vascular Institute in Portland, Ore. He earned his medical degree from Harvard Medical School and completed his medical training at Massachusetts General Hospital and Stanford University Hospital. He is the past chair of the Oregon Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.