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Some common OTC medicines can raise blood pressure

A man using a wheelchair, seen from behind in the toiletries aisle of a grocery store.

March 28, 2022—If you're trying to keep high blood pressure under control, here's a tip that may help: Pay attention to the over-the-counter (OTC) medicines you're taking. The reason? OTC medicines for everything from headaches to cold symptom relief can give blood pressure an unwanted boost. Some even make your blood pressure drugs less likely to work well for you.

That's according to experts, including the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the American Heart Association (AHA).

Medicines that can affect blood pressure include:

NSAIDs. Short for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, NSAIDs include the pain relievers ibuprofen (such as Advil and Motrin) and naproxen (such as Aleve). Prescription-strength NSAIDs also decrease the effectiveness of most blood-pressure-lowering drugs.

Acetaminophen. Possibly to a lesser degree than NSAIDs, this pain and fever reducer (one example is Tylenol) can also raise blood pressure.

Cold and flu remedies. Medicines that contain decongestants constrict blood vessels, which can cause blood pressure to increase. In addition, decongestants may lessen the effectiveness of high blood pressure medicines.

What you can do

These drugs typically raise blood pressure by a small amount. But even small increases can affect your overall blood pressure control. When buying OTC medicines, the AHA suggests that you:

Read the label. Some medicines may contain warnings for people with high blood pressure and those taking blood pressure drugs. Some OTC cold remedies are designed for people with high blood pressure. They will say so on the label.

Check the sodium content. Some OTC meds are loaded with sodium, which also raises blood pressure. Check ingredients lists for the words sodium or soda. Sodium might be found in all types of medicines. Many effervescent medicines and vitamins get their fizz from sodium bicarbonate. A pharmacist may be able to help you find the same medicine in another form.

Talk to your doctor. When in doubt, ask your doctor if an OTC medicine you're thinking of taking may affect your blood pressure levels or your blood pressure medicines. In fact, it's always a good idea to let your doctor know about all of the medicines and supplements you're taking, including those you can buy without a prescription. If a medicine does pose a problem for you, your doctor might be able to suggest an alternative that won't affect your blood pressure treatment plan.

Know your numbers

Monitoring your blood pressure can help you find out if your medications are working well—or if it might be time to make some changes. If you have high blood pressure, your doctor may recommend taking blood pressure readings at home. Ask your doctor for advice on choosing a blood pressure device, and try these tips for a more accurate reading.

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