The People's Perspective on Medicine

Caffeine in Pills Linked to Stroke

Drinking coffee has been associated with health benefits such as a reduced likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes, heart failure, Alzheimer’s disease or certain cancers. But caffeine in medications may not be so good for you.

Korean researchers report that people who had suffered a bleeding stroke were more likely to have been taking drugs containing caffeine. They compared these patients to others who were hospitalized for different health conditions and to a third group who were healthy. Those taking caffeinated medications such as wake-up pills, cold remedies or pain relievers were two and a half times more likely to suffer a stroke. This risk was most noticeable in those who did not usually drink coffee. People who drank as many as three cups of coffee daily were not at increased risk for such hemorrhagic strokes.

Perhaps part of the problem may be traced to the decongestant PPA, known as phenylpropanolamine. It is no longer allowed in the U.S. because of a documented risk of strokes, but it is still found in some of the Korean medicines studied. Taken with caffeine, PPA might be especially dangerous.

[Stroke, online June 6, 2013]

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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>But caffeine in medications may not be so good for you.
This is not a conclusion I would have drawn from the data offered. It appears to be pretty clear that the affected population does not regularly consume caffeine. I would hazard that adults who don’t regularly consume caffeine do so (or rather, not) for reasons they’ve discovered–that they don’t like the feeling. Perhaps these people are extra sensitive to the sensations / stimulation, and don’t like it.
Therefore, a conclusion better supported by the data is that if you don’t like caffeine at all, be careful not to get any from your drugs, either.
And agreed, phenylpropanolamine cannot be ruled out. Nasty product.

I wonder if there are studies showing whether caffeine in soft drinks (Coke, Pepsi, etc.) and the super-caffeinated energy drinks can cause stroke. A member of our family who drinks a lot of Pepsi, but not coffee, recently had a stroke at a very young age. However, it was a clot, not a bleeding stroke.

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