Do you have high blood pressure? Find out which cold and flu medicines are safe for you.
You have a stuffy head, scratchy throat, and feel achy and feverish. Should you head to the drugstore and stock up on cold and flu remedies? Or maybe you tend to grab whatever you have in your medicine cabinet. Before you do, consider your blood pressure and check with your doctor.
Over-the-counter cold and flu medications containing decongestants can spike your blood pressure. If you already have uncontrolled high blood pressure, a spike could be dangerous.
If you have uncontrolled high blood pressure and take certain cold and flu medications, you could develop some more problems triggered by an increase in blood pressure. These include heart rhythm problems, heart attack, or stroke. Decongestants may also interfere with the effectiveness of some medications used to treat high blood pressure.
Cold and flu medications that contain pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine can raise your blood pressure. Another ingredient called phenylpropanolamine (PPA) can also cause dangerous spikes in blood pressure. Although PPA was pulled off the market, be sure it isn’t lurking in outdated medicines in your medicine cabinet. Any of these compounds may be found in some nasal decongestants and cough and cold products. They help relieve a stuffy nose by constricting blood vessels, which eases the swelling in nasal passages. But the constricting of blood vessels also raises blood pressure. While this isn’t a problem for many healthy people, spikes in already high blood pressure can be dangerous.
Blood pressure mechanics
When your heart beats, it pushes blood through the arteries, creating pressure. If your arteries are healthy and flexible, no problem. But stiff arteries lead to higher blood pressure. Blood pressure of 140 over 90 or above is considered high.
- The first number in a blood pressure reading, called the systolic pressure, represents the pressure while the heart is beating.
- The second number, the diastolic, represents the pressure when the heart is resting between beats.
High blood pressure is often known as the “silent killer” because many people can have it for years and not know it. The only way you know you have high blood pressure is to have it checked.
Tips for people with high blood pressure
If you already know you have high blood pressure, what should you do when you catch a cold or the flu?
Besides rest and fluids, use medications that treat only the symptoms that you have. Acetaminophen may help for fever and body aches. You can look for cold, cough, and flu medications made just for people with high blood pressure. These products are specially formulated and labeled safe for use in people who have high blood pressure. But always check with your doctor before you take any over-the-counter medications if you take any other medicines or have any medical problems.
If you have high blood pressure, talk to your doctor to make sure you are doing all you can to keep it under control. Here’s what you can do:
- Keep tabs on your blood pressure, and have it checked regularly.
- Lose weight, if needed. People with a body mass index of 30 or more are much more likely than others to develop high blood pressure.
- Cut the amount of salt in your diet, and eat more fruits and vegetables.
- Eat a low-fat diet.
- Don’t smoke.
- Get plenty of exercise. Check with your doctor before you start or increase your activity.
Don’t forget to carefully read all the directions and expiration dates on the label of any over-the-counter medication that you have in your medicine cabinet.