High blood pressure and drug safety
If you have high blood pressure – 140 over 900mmHg – over a few weeks or more your GP will probably have prescribed medication to help to bring it down.
It’s important to take this medication to bring your blood pressure down, as high blood pressure can put you at increased risk of a number of serious conditions, including stroke and heart disease.
But if you are taking other medicines, either those bought over the counter, or prescribed for you, there is a chance that they could be pushing your blood pressure up.
Your GP will know, by looking at your notes, which of your prescribed medicines could have this effect, and is likely to change them for alternatives that won’t raise your blood pressure. However, unless your pharmacist knows you – and your prescriptions – very well, they may not know whether or not you have high blood pressure.
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So if you are buying any of the over-the-counter medications listed below, that can cause your blood pressure to rise, make sure you let the pharmacist know that you have high blood pressure. Better still, give them the exact figures, (it’s worth keeping a note of them with you).
If you are used to taking the same medication – either prescribed or over the counter - for long periods, it can be easy to take their safety for granted. However, being aware of drug safety is vital. Always check the information that comes with your medicines, before you start taking them. If you are being treated for high blood pressure and aren’t sure if other medications are safe to take, check first with your GP or pharmacist.
Drugs for high blood pressure
Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
You’ll know these complicated sounding drugs better by their more commonly-used names – Ibuprofen and Naproxen, for instance. You can buy these drugs over the counter, or may have them prescribed by your GP. They can be very helpful in reducing pain, and inflammation (your body’s reaction to a wound, infection or other unhealthy stimulus). However, like many drugs they can also cause side effects.
The milder side effects include drowsiness, dizziness, allergic reactions, indigestion and diarrhoea.
NSAIDs affect your blood pressure because they can cause your body to hold onto sodium (salt) and water - known as fluid retention. This means that your kidneys don’t work as well as they would normally, if you hadn’t taken NSAIDs. And this can result in an increase in your blood pressure. And if your blood pressure increases this can affect not just your heart, but your kidneys as well.
Kidney disease and high blood pressure
Cough and cold medications
We’ve all seen these, advertised on TV, and in plentiful supply on pharmacists’ and supermarket shelves. At those times when we are feeling really bunged up and miserable, taking a medicine that could sort out some of our cold symptoms is very tempting.
However, if you have high blood pressure, before you take a cough or cold treatment, make sure you read the ingredients list. This is important because many medicines designed to relieve cough and cold symptoms contain NSAIDs.
As we’ve already seen, these drugs can affect how your body – particularly your kidneys – work. And this can result in raising your blood pressure levels, which can affect your overall health, and can even lead to stroke and heart disease.
Some decongestants can raise your blood pressure directly, by narrowing your blood vessels, and making it harder for the blood to flow through them. Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) is one example.
Before you buy cough and cold medicines, make a list of the specific drugs and medicines that you should avoid. Make sure that you check carefully on the ingredients list to see if they are included. If you aren’t sure if an over-the-counter cough and cold medicine is safe to take, ask the pharmacist to check for you.
If you have a home blood pressure monitor, it’s a good idea to use this regularly if you start taking any of these medicines. Checking your blood pressure is quick and easy, and can either put your mind at rest. On the other hand, a home monitor can let you know if your blood pressure is up -140 over 900mmHg. If this is the case it’s a good idea to stop taking the OTC cold medication, and to see your GP.
How to monitor your blood pressure
Migraine headache medications
People who suffer with migraine may often have tried over-the-counter headache relief, including NSAIDs such as ibuprofen. Regardless of the condition you take these for, these drugs work in the same way, with the result that your blood pressure increases.
Migraine medications can be divided into two different categories. Preventive medications, if taken regularly, can help reduce how often you have migraines, and how bad they are. Pain-relieving medications, on the other hand, are designed to be taken when you are having a migraine attack, to help stop or reduce the symptoms.
Triptans are a group of medicines used to help reduce migraine symptoms. However, triptans, like NSAIDs make your blood vessels tighten, and like NSAIDs, can increase your blood pressure.
If you are affected by migraine and have high blood pressure, talk to your GP about the most suitable painkillers for your circumstances.
What you need to know about migraine symptoms and treatments
Weight loss drugs
If you are struggling to lose weight, taking medication to help you with weight reduction – often known as weight loss or diet pills – can be tempting.
You should always talk to your GP before starting to take any weight loss medication. This is because they may react with other medicines you are taking. And some – those that behave like stimulants – may raise your blood pressure, as well as making your heart rate faster than normal.
Saga Health Insurance offers a range of health plans which provide cover if you develop high blood pressure (hypertension). If you've already been diagnosed they can often still cover your hypertension anyway, subject to some simple health questions and an additional premium. Find out more.
How to avoid medication problems
We take, and are prescribed, medicines to help us feel better, and to help relieve and if possible, cure health problems. Because some medicines are so readily available, from pharmacies and supermarkets, we can sometimes be too relaxed about taking them.
For instance, it can take just a few seconds to swallow a couple of painkillers or antihistamines, or other medicines bought over the counter (OTC) from a pharmacy or supermarket, without stopping to think about the instructions on our prescription drugs.
Some medicines simply should not be taken together. This may be because one drug will stop the other drugs we take from working properly. This can mean that you may not benefit from the protective effects of those drugs.
On the other hand, drugs bought over the counter, borrowed from a family member, or discovered at the back of the bathroom cabinet, may react very strongly with your prescribed drugs – causing adverse effects - and may even cause a medical emergency.
Follow this advice to make sure you avoid taking a potentially harmful combination of drugs.
- If you are taking prescription drugs make sure you always take them as advised by your doctor, and following the advice on the information sheet.
- Don’t alter the amount of any drug that you take unless your doctor has said that you can.
- Don’t take any medicine – prescribed or OTC – more often than you are supposed to, and don’t take it for longer than advised.
- Some drugs can interact with food, so check with your GP and/or pharmacist before taking a prescribed or OTC drug for the first time.
Understanding drug interactions
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