Over-the-Counter Pain Meds and High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure and some pain medications, even the over-the-counter kind, don't mix. Here's the 411

Sometimes, managing your blood pressure can seem like a full-time job. There are so many dos and don'ts that it's hard to keep them straight.

Even something as ordinary as a backache can endanger you, if you take the wrong meds for it. And I'm not talking about prescription drugs here: simple over-the-counter remedies you've used for years can cause you BP problems.

Let's take a closer look.

The NSAIDs Issue

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, a.k.a. NSAIDs, can be especially dangerous, because as a side effect to easing your pain, they can cause your BP to unexpectedly spike. Ironically, the grandfather NSAID of them all, aspirin, is safe for hypertensive individuals; but most of the others are not.

Ibuprofen and naproxen sodium are the most common NSAIDs you should try to avoid. You may know them better as Advil and Aleve, respectively. No worries about the old standby acetaminophen; it's not an NSAID and has no hypertensive side effects, though like any drug you shouldn't overuse it.

The Side Effects

As the full name suggests, NSAIDs work by decreasing the inflammation that causes many types of minor pains, including headaches. But that's not all it does. It also slows down kidney function.

Your kidneys filter toxins out of the blood, and it's not an especially fast process in the first place. When the kidneys slow down even further, that may cause a backup of fluids in your system, which can result in a blood pressure increase that lasts until the backup clears.

If your BP is already high, the backup can cause it to rise to dangerous levels.

Your Options

Read the labels of any OTC drugs you're thinking about taking, to make absolutely sure they don't contain NSAIDs. While ibuprofen and naproxen are the most common, there are a lot of other NSAIDs to worry about. You may want to familiarize yourself with the list in this Wikipedia article on NSAIDS.

Otherwise, look for safer pain management options. Acetaminophen is in fact a good alternative, though it won't work as well as NSAIDs on inflammatory pain, including some forms of arthritis. Aspirin's also a good choice, though it can cause stomach upset. But either is better than gritting your teeth and bearing it.

Ice packs can help you decrease the pain of swelling from bodily injury; heat can help too, but don't use it on recent injuries.

The Bottom Line

Don't obsess about avoiding NSAIDs, but do keep in mind that they can be dangerous to you, especially when combined with another BP raiser like smoking or fructose. Just accept this fact as another pain in the keister related to having high blood pressure, be careful, and move on.

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