Just because some medication is available over the counter without a prescription does not mean it is free of significant side-effects.
Certain over-the-counter (OTC) medications used to alleviate the symptoms of colds and flu contain ingredients which have been linked to serious side-effects and damage to the heart.
Read: Take care with over-the-counter medication
In an article by The Sceptical Cardiologist, he strongly advises against using any medication which contains pseudoephedrine, an ingredient found in many OTC cold and flu decongestant medications.
Pseudoephedrine works as a decongestant by shrinking blood vessels in the nasal passages to alleviate nasal congestion, however it constricts blood vessels throughout the body, which increases your blood pressure.
It is often used in conjunction with other ingredients, and together these have been shown to have a negative effect on blood pressure in some people.
Some of the other ingredients in decongestants include:
According to the FDA, pseudoephedrine is safe when taken as directed; however this doesn’t disregard the risks associated with it,
some of which include heart attacks, strokes, disturbed heart rhythms, and other cardiovascular problems.
Commonly a "-D" at the end of a medicine's name means that the medicine includes an oral decongestant.
Who is at risk?
Decongestants are safe for most people to take, but due to the different types of decongestants and their different ingredients there are certain people who should be extra cautious when buying anything OTC.
These include people with:
- Cardiovascular disease
This does not mean however that if you have any of the above conditions that you will have to suffer in silence with a blocked or runny nose or other cold and flu symptoms.
There are other alternatives available in the form of antihistamines or nasal sprays to relieve a stuffy nose which are safe for the heart as well as other OTC drugs for people with high blood pressure.
And if you prefer to avoid any form of medication you could try the following to alleviate your symptoms:
- Nasal strips or chest rubs
- Hot steamy showers
- Hot fluids such as lemon and honey drinks
- A humidifier in your bedroom
Know your symptoms
over-the-counter drugs or antibiotics
Make sense of cold and flu meds
The Skeptical Cardiologist http://theskepticalcardiologist.com/2015/02/01/what-cold-medications-are-safe-for-my-heart/
Over the counter medications and heart disease http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/PreventionTreatmentofHighBloodPressure/Over-the-Counter-Medications_UCM_303245_Article.jsp
SA Pharmaceutical Journal: http://www.sapj.co.za/index.php/SAPJ
Are over-the-counter decongestants safe for your heart?: http://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/pseudoephedrine_decongestants
Don’t let decongestants squeeze your heart: http://www.health.harvard.edu/family_health_guide/dont-let-decongestants-squeeze-your-hear