Cold season is upon us and the American Heart Association reminded consumers that many over-the-counter flu and cold medications can increase blood pressure and injure kidneys.
Not all medications will have these negative effects, but those containing decongestants like pseudoephedrine, oxymetazoline, ephedrine, phenylephrine and naphazoline should all be avoided, particularly by patients who have been diagnosed with hypertension or cardiovascular disease, according to The Mayo Clinic.
The flu is particularly dangerous
In addition to medications people with heart conditions should avoid, it is important for these people to avoid the flu at all costs, according to the AHA. Previous research found there may be a connection between the flu and tears in the aorta, which is the largest artery carrying blood from the heart to the body. A small tear, known as dissection, can lead to the aorta rupturing, which is usually fatal.
The researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Center compared flu activity in the U.S. to aortic dissections between 2001 and 2013. Of the 869 cases in those years, the patients were mostly admitted between November and March, which is the flu season, the AHA reported.
"We suspect that flu creates an inflammatory reaction that could theoretically increase chances of dissection in susceptible individuals," said study author Dr. Harleen K. Sandhu, M.P.H. "While more research is needed to further explore this association, we suggest at-risk patients, such as older Americans, get seasonal flu shots."
Don't avoid the flu shot
People with cardiovascular disease are more likely to die from the flu than people with any other chronic illness, the AHA reported. Therefore, it is important for people with heart issues to get their flu shot each year to reduce the chance they'll pick up the virus. Additionally, these patients should speak with their physician if they experience flu symptoms so that they can be guided toward the proper over-the-counter medications or treated with safe prescription medications.
How to handle flu symptoms before you get to the doctor
Sometime it takes a day or two before patients can see their physician. If they need to use over-the-counter medications, they should choose ones designated safe for people with high blood pressure such as Coricidin HBP, which does not include potentially dangerous decongestants, The Mayo Clinic recommended. Patients can also use acetaminophen or aspirin to bring down their fever, and drink plenty of tea to soothe their throats and stay hydrated.