If you have high blood pressure or any type of heart-related issues, then you need to take care while selecting a cold and flu medicine. This is because certain common cold medications can increase a person’s blood pressure, thus increasing the risk of a heart attack, especially in people who have a history of heart disease. Read on to find out how this happens and how can common cold medicine increase your blood pressure.
Can Common Cold Medicine Increase your Blood Pressure?
During the change of season, especially in the winters, many people often turn to over-the-counter decongestants to combat the common cold and flu. However, if you have a history of heart disease, or if you have high blood pressure, then you might want to reconsider your decision to take these types of cold medications.
The American Heart Association (AHA) advises that taking decongestants and any non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) that are commonly found in flu and common cold medications could very well increase a person’s blood pressure.(1)
According to the American Heart Association’s 2017 guidelines on blood pressure, many of the commonly available over-the-counter decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine, can constrict the blood vessels, thus decreasing the fluids that are clogging the sinuses when you have a cold or flu.(2) While in most cases, this does not have any effect, but it can prove to be dangerous for those who have a history of heart disease or who have chronic high blood pressure or hypertension.
Constriction of the blood vessels can increase not only a person’s blood pressure but also their heart rate. This can be worrisome for those who have underlying heart disease and chronic and uncontrolled blood pressure.
Impact of Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are medications that are commonly taken to relieve inflammation and pain. One of the most popular NSAIDs is ibuprofen (brand name: Advil) and aspirin, which are used for alleviating the symptoms of common cold and flu.(3)
According to a study published in 2014, ibuprofen can increase the risk of stroke and high blood pressure, but aspirin does not have these effects.(4)
Furthermore, a study done in 2017 looked at whether taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for treating an acute respiratory infection (ARI) can lead to an increase in the risk of a heart attack. The study was carried out on 9,793 adult participants who had earlier been hospitalized for a heart attack. The average age of these participants was 72 years. The study concluded that people who already had high blood pressure and took NSAIDs for the treatment of acute respiratory infection were three times more likely to have a heart attack.(5)
However, the researchers also noted that simply being sick can also increase a person’s blood pressure, thus also increasing the risk of having a stroke or heart attack.
The findings from these studies suggest that a person who has heart disease or hypertension should avoid using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for treating symptoms of the common cold. It is also advisable for such people to consult their doctor about what medications would be safer for them to take in the event of a cold or flu.
Impact of Decongestants
Decongestants are another popular class of drugs that are used to get relief from the symptoms of a blocked nose.(6) Similar to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, decongestants also pose a risk to those who have heart disease, hypertension, or any other type of heart-related disorders.
Decongestants work by restricting the blood vessels in the sinuses. At the same time, though, these medications also constrict the blood vessels elsewhere in your body. This can increase your blood pressure and also increase the heart rate. Decongestants are also known to interact with blood pressure medications, causing them to become less effective.(7)
Decongestants are readily available over-the-counter at most pharmacies, and you can purchase them on their own or even as a separate ingredient in other multi-symptom cold and flu medications. People who buy such multi-symptom medicines for getting relief from the multiple symptoms of the cold need to carefully read the medication label first.
There are many different types of decongestants available on the market, and certain types are more likely than others to cause issues in people with chronic uncontrolled blood pressure. These include:
What Should You Be Using?
If you have high blood pressure or an underlying heart condition, then what options are available for you to use for alleviating symptoms of the common cold and flu. In such cases, people should look for alternative treatments such as oral antihistamines or intranasal steroids for reducing their congestion.
Instead of choosing medications that contain ibuprofen, you should opt for cold and flu medicines that contain acetaminophen, which does not have an associated cardiovascular risk.
The best alternative is to take a decongestant nasal spray that will not have too much of an effect on your blood pressure.
There are many alternatives to taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. There are also many cold and flu medicines that are specifically designed for people who have high blood pressure. You can always ask your doctor or pharmacist to recommend one of these medications. Here are some tips that you can use to relieve cold and flu symptoms and also assist in the recovery from a common cold:
- Drink plenty of water or fluids
- Use a saltwater gargle
- Use a saline nasal spray
- Drink warm water, tea with lemon and honey, or any warm liquids throughout the day to soothe your throat
- Use a humidifier to add more humidity to your room – this makes it easier to breathe
- Get plenty of rest
- Use acetaminophen or aspirin to alleviate body pain
The American Heart Association firmly recommends that people who have a history of heart disease or high blood pressure should avoid using over-the-counter cold decongestants. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and decongestants that are found in common cold medications can increase your blood pressure and also increase the risk of a heart attack.
These medications constrict the blood vessels in the body in order to stop the fluids that are clogging up the sinuses. However, for someone who has high blood pressure, this can prove to be dangerous.
Medical experts recommend that people with underlying heart conditions and high blood pressure should choose oral antihistamines or nasal sprays as they don’t have the same detrimental effect on your heart health and blood pressure.
- www.heart.org. 2020. Taking Medicine For A Cold? Be Mindful Of Your Heart.. [online] Available at: <https://www.heart.org/en/news/2019/01/18/taking-medicine-for-a-cold-be-mindful-of-your-heart> [Accessed 19 April 2020].
- Ahajournals.org. 2020. 2017 ACC/AHA/AAPA/ABC/ACPM/AGS/Apha/ASH/ASPC/NMA/PCNA Guideline For The Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, And Management Of High Blood Pressure In Adults: Executive Summary: A Report Of The American College Of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force On Clinical Practice Guidelines | Hypertension. [online] Available at: <https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/HYP.0000000000000066> [Accessed 19 April 2020].
- Kim, S.Y., Chang, Y.J., Cho, H.M., Hwang, Y.W. and Moon, Y.S., 2013. Non‐steroidal anti‐inflammatory drugs for the common cold. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (6).
- Sherve, K., Gerard, C.J., Neher, J.O. and Anna, L.S., 2014. Cardiovascular effects of NSAIDs. American family physician, 90(4).
- Wen, Y.C., Hsiao, F.Y., Chan, K.A., Lin, Z.F., Shen, L.J. and Fang, C.C., 2017. Acute respiratory infection and use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs on risk of acute myocardial infarction: a nationwide case-crossover study. The Journal of infectious diseases, 215(4), pp.503-509.
- Taverner, D. and Latte, G.J., 2007. Nasal decongestants for the common cold. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (1).
- Coates, M.L., Rembold, C.M. and Farr, B.M., 1995. Does pseudoephedrine increase blood pressure in patients with controlled hypertension?. Journal of Family Practice, 40(1), pp.22-26.
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