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What Cold Medicine Is Safe for People With High Blood Pressure?

Decongestants can boost blood pressure. People with high blood pressure should look for cold medicine without phenylephrine.
What Cold Medicine Is Safe for People With High Blood Pressu...
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If your blood pressure is elevated, there are all sorts of things you are supposed to avoid. Pretzels and potato chips, for example, along with other foods that contain a lot of salt. You may have heard about that. But have you heard about the medications that people with high blood pressure should avoid? That can be a significant challenge during cold season.

Looking for a Cold Medicine That Won’t Hurt People With High Blood Pressure:

Q. I saw a television commercial for cold medicine that is safe for people with high blood pressure. I can’t remember what it was. Can you help me out?

A. The real danger with multi-symptom cold, flu and cough medicines is that they may contain decongestants. Ingredients such as phenylephrine or pseudoephedrine are vasoconstrictors. That means they narrow small blood vessels which can in turn raise blood pressure.

Because pseudoephedrine (found in Sudafed and other products) can be used illicitly to make methamphetamine, it is no longer available on pharmacy shelves. Pseudoephedrine is sold “behind the counter” though, and does not require a prescription. Like phenylephrine, it is not appropriate for people with high blood pressure.

You may have seen a commercial for Coricidin HBP Cold & Flu. It contains acetaminophen to lower a fever and the antihistamine chlorpheniramine to help dry out nasal secretions. Other formulas contain dextromethorphan to calm a cough. Many medicines for colds or even sleep aids contain acetaminophen. Make sure you don’t double up by taking two different medications with acetaminophen (APAP).

What You Can Buy at the Drug Store:

There are lots of cold remedies that do not contain the decongestant phenylephrine. They should not raise your blood pressure. Read the label carefully to make sure the medicine you choose does not contain this decongestant.

Whether any of these cold medicines will actually speed recovery from an upper respiratory tract infection, though, remains controversial. In most cases, what you are buying is symptom relief for a little while. That may be worthwhile, but only if you make sure it won’t boost your blood pressure.

Other Ways People with High Blood Pressure Can Treat a Cold:

Colds are notoriously difficult to cure, but many natural approaches can alleviate symptoms. Most of these are also safe for people with high blood pressure. Vitamin C, for example, won’t prevent colds but it does seem to help people get over them faster.

Elderberry is another remedy that is increasingly popular to treat colds. Some people use the juice or make a syrup. Others collect the flowers and dry them to make a pleasant tea to treat a cough.

You may also have heard that zinc supplements can speed recovery from a cold. Scientific studies support that claim, although we don’t yet know the correct dose. Any of these remedies work best when taken at the earliest appearance of symptoms, and none of them pose a special hazard for people with high blood pressure.

Learn More:

You can find out more about safe treatments for colds and other upper respiratory infections from our eGuide to Colds, Coughs & the Flu.

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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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