Would it surprise you to know that nearly half of all adults in the country have elevated blood pressure, and most don’t even know it? Yet only 30% have spoken with a healthcare professional about the adverse effects some over-the-counter medicines can have on their blood pressure. Recently, Dr. Mitch Elkind, American Heart Association’s Chief Clinical Science Officer, conducted a satellite media tour to share precautionary measures that people with high blood pressure need to take before using over-the-counter medications, especially if they have pre-existing conditions or are on other medications.
A video accompanying this announcement is available at: https://youtu.be/x7bVSA55fJ0
High blood pressure, (also referred to as hypertension) is when your blood pressure, the force of blood flowing through your blood vessels, is consistently too high. The best way to know if you have high blood pressure it is to have your blood pressure checked.
How to use a home blood pressure monitor
- Be still. Discuss how to use your home blood pressure monitor with your health care professional. Don't smoke, drink caffeinated beverages or exercise within 30 minutes before measuring your blood pressure. Empty your bladder and ensure at least five minutes of quiet rest before measurements.
- Sit correctly. Sit with your back straight and supported (on a dining chair, rather than a sofa). Your feet should be flat on the floor and your legs should not be crossed. Your arm should be supported on a flat surface, such as a table, with the upper arm at heart level. Make sure the bottom of the cuff is placed directly above the bend of the elbow. Check your monitor's instructions for an illustration or have your health care professional show you how.
- Measure at the same time every day. It’s important to take the readings at the same time each day, such as morning and evening. It is best to take the readings daily, ideally beginning two weeks after a change in treatment and during the week before your next appointment.
- Take multiple readings and record the results. Each time you measure, take two readings one minute apart and record the results using a printable (PDF) tracker. If your monitor has built-in memory to store your readings, take it with you to your appointments. Some monitors may also allow you to upload your readings to a secure website after you register your profile.
- Don't take the measurement over clothes.
If you get a high blood pressure reading
- If your blood pressure is higher than 180/120 mm Hg and you are experiencing signs of possible organ damage such as chest pain, shortness of breath, back pain, numbness/weakness, change in vision or difficulty speaking, do not wait to see whether your pressure comes down on its own. Call 911, as this is an emergency.
- A single high reading is not an immediate cause for alarm. If you get a reading that is slightly or moderately higher than normal, take your blood pressure a second time and write the results of the two measurements down. Consult your health care professional to verify if there’s a health concern or whether there may be any issues with your monitor.
- If your blood pressure readings suddenly exceed 180/120 mm Hg, wait five minutes and test again. If your readings are still unusually high, contact your health care professional immediately. You could be experiencing a hypertensive crisis.
The American Heart Association recommends home monitoring for all people with high blood pressure to help the health care professional determine whether treatments are working. Home monitoring, or self-measured blood pressure, is not a substitute for regular visits to your physician. If you have been prescribed medication to lower your blood pressure, don't stop taking your medication without consulting your health care professional, even if your blood pressure readings are in the normal range during home monitoring.
Understanding Over-the-Counter (OTC) Medications and High Blood Pressure
Look for warnings related to high blood pressure medication.
Always read the labels on all over-the-counter medications, especially if you have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. Look for warnings to those with high blood pressure and to those who take blood pressure medications. If you have high blood pressure and certainly if you are on prescription medication, consult your health care professional before taking any over-the-counter medications or supplements.
Be careful with supplements or natural (naturopathic) remedies.
There are no special pills, vitamins or drinks that can substitute for prescription medications and lifestyle modifications. Talk to your health care professional before taking any over-the-counter drug or supplement that claims to lower your blood pressure. They may not work as advertised and/or may interfere with other medications. In fact, some can even raise your blood pressure.
Decongestants may raise your blood pressure.
People with high blood pressure should be aware that the use of decongestants may raise blood pressure or interfere with the effectiveness of some prescribed blood pressure medications. Be aware of over-the-counter cold and flu preparations that contain decongestants as well. Discuss any medications you wish to use with your health care professional.
Check the sodium content.
Some over-the-counter medications are high in sodium, which can also raise blood pressure. Look at the active and inactive ingredients lists for words like “sodium” or “soda.” Note the amount of sodium in the medication. People with high blood pressure should consume less than 1,500 mg of sodium per day from all sources — one dose of some over-the-counter medications can contain more than a whole day’s allowance.
Other drugs and substances that can raise your blood pressure include:
- Atypical antipsychotics (for example, clozapine and olanzapine)
- Oral contraceptives
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs (for example, ibuprofen and naproxen sodium)
- Systemic corticosteroids (for example, prednisone and methylprednisolone)
Do not stop taking any prescribed medications without discussing with your health care professional.
To learn more visit: heart.org/bptools
Mitchell S. V. Elkind, MD, MS, FAAN, FAHA is a tenured Professor of Neurology and Epidemiology at Columbia University, and the Chief Clinical Science Officer at the American Heart Association as of September 2022. He received his medical degree from Harvard Medical School, and he trained in Internal Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and in Neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital, both in Boston, MA. He completed a fellowship in Vascular Neurology and Neuroepidemiology at Columbia University Medical Center. Dr. Elkind holds a Master’s degree in Epidemiology from Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health. Dr. Elkind’s research focuses on stroke prevention, inflammatory and infectious biomarkers in stroke risk prediction, atrial cardiopathy, immune therapy for acute stroke, and vascular causes of cognitive aging. He is the second neurologist to serve as President of the American Heart Association (AHA) in its 100 year history, from 2020-2021.
About the American Heart Association
The American Heart Association is a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives. We are dedicated to ensuring equitable health in all communities. Through collaboration with numerous organizations and powered by millions of volunteers, we fund innovative research, advocate for the public’s health and share lifesaving resources. The Dallas-based organization has been a leading source of health information for nearly a century. Connect with us