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March 2022

OTC Medicines Raise Concerns About Blood Pressure

You can buy a variety of medicines at the store without a prescription. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore their directions, drug interactions, and side effects. Some over-the-counter (OTC) options warrant extra caution—especially if your blood pressure is higher than normal.

Roughly half of U.S. adults have high blood pressure. However, a 2021 survey commissioned by the American Heart Association revealed that only 29% of U.S. adults know OTC pain medicines may raise blood pressure. Here’s what to keep in mind about blood pressure and picking the right OTC medicines.

Heart with colorful medicines in the background

Why your numbers matter

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is defined as consistent blood pressure readings of 130/80 mmHg or higher. By comparison, a healthy or “normal” reading is less than 120/80 mmHg. High numbers mean that the blood flowing away from your heart is placing a greater amount of pressure against the inside walls of your arteries.

While it may sound uncomfortable, high blood pressure often produces no symptoms. What can result, however, is damage to your:

  • Blood vessels

  • Heart

  • Brain

  • Eyes

  • Kidneys

Over time, arteries end up carrying less blood and oxygen to the heart, resulting in heart attack or heart failure. You can help avoid these and other health problems by keeping your numbers in a healthy range.

How to find safe remedies

From aches and pains to allergies and flu, it’s best to talk with your health care provider about what OTC medicines are right for you. Here’s why:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are often a go-to strategy for easing pain and inflammation from injuries, arthritis, and more. But they can increase your blood pressure and conflict with ACE inhibitors and other medicines. NSAID products include Ibuprofen and aspirin. Your provider may advise switching from those to acetaminophen.

  • Decongestants, which ease a stuffy nose by narrowing its blood vessels, can also be dangerous whether high blood pressure is well managed or not. These include oxymetazoline, phenylephrine, or pseudoephedrine. Consider nasal saline and antihistamines instead.

At the store, take time to read labels so that you pick up the right product. Be sure to check the amount of sodium, too. OTC options can have a surprisingly high amount and up your blood pressure. If in doubt of what to buy, ask the pharmacist for help.

Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley, MSN, BSN
Date Last Reviewed: 12/1/2021
© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.