6 Common Drugs That Could Increase Blood Pressure

Most people are aware there are certain drugs and substances that can raise blood pressure and alter the effectiveness of anti-hypertensive medications. These include a number of popular, over-the-counter remedies, such as cough syrups, allergy pills, and multi-symptom cold medicines.

Some of these do so by stimulating brain chemicals, called neurotransmitters, which cause constriction (narrowing) of blood vessels. Others so by directly affecting organs like the kidneys or causing retention of fluids that can influence blood pressure.

Here are six over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription drugs you may need to watch out for if trying to control your high blood pressure.

Nonsteroidal Pain Relievers (NSAIDs)

Advil in palm of hand

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Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are among the most popular over-the-counter medicines in the world today. They are used to treat headaches, reduce fever, and, when taken in higher doses, alleviate pain and inflammation. While NSAIDs are typically safe, prolonged use can lead to alterations in blood pressure.

NSAIDs can cause sodium and water retention which, over time, can lead to increased blood pressure.

Long-term use has also been linked to changes in kidney function, the organ of which is key to blood pressure regulation. NSAIDs of concern include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn).

Tylenol (Acetaminophen)

Boxes of Tylenol

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Tylenol (acetaminophen) is used to treat many of the same symptoms as ibuprofen and naproxen but works in a different manner. As a non-aspirin analgesic, it has a chemical structure different from that of NSAIDs and also tends to have a lesser effect on inflammation.

While generally safe, one of the concerns about Tylenol is its effect on the liver. Long-term use or overuse can cause liver damage, which, in turn, can lead to a condition called portal hypertension. With portal hypertension, blood pressure increases in the liver turn into a rise in blood pressure throughout the body.

When used appropriately, Tylenol will tend to have a lesser impact on blood pressure when compared with NSAIDs. However, alcohol should be avoided when taking acetaminophen as this can increase the likelihood of liver problems.

Nasal Decongestants

A woman sneezing and blowing her nose

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Decongestants work by slowing the production of mucus, which can clog breathing passages. The drugs achieve this by causing the constriction of blood vessels in the nose and sinuses, opening airways and reducing the sensation of fullness caused by allergies or colds.

Most decongestants contain either pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine, stimulants known to increase blood pressure.

When used appropriately over a short period of time, decongestants are largely safe and effective. However, overuse or long-term use may be problematic, potentially increasing blood pressure and undermining anti-hypertensive treatment. Non-stimulant decongestants are available and may be just as effective in treating certain nasal conditions.

Multi-Symptom Cold and Flu Remedies

Woman holding cough syrup on a spoon

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Drug stores carry dozens of pills, syrups, and tablets designed to ease cold and flu symptoms. While each has different formulations, they are largely comprised of the same or similar basket of ingredients.

Some multi-symptom remedies contain decongestants and cough suppressants to help clear nasal passages and ease breathing. Ibuprofen or acetaminophen may be included to relieve muscle aches and fever. Each of these can, directly and indirectly, alter a person's blood pressure.

Some, like decongestants, cause blood vessels to constrict. Others change how the body handles things like salt and water, leading to fluid retention and increased blood pressure.

The combined effect of constricting blood vessels and fluid retention can cause short-term increases in blood pressure that may counteract the effectiveness of your anti-hypertensive drugs.

Hormonal Birth Control

Woman holding birth control pills

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Virtually all hormonal birth control pills, patches, and devices are associated with increased blood pressure. Vascular constriction is a common side effect of these products, particularly among women who smoke, are overweight, or are over the age of 35.

Not all women will be affected by hormonal birth control, but, if you have underlying hypertension, you will need to be monitored closely, ideally every six to 12 months.

Alternately, oral contraceptives with lower-dose estrogen may mitigate some of the blood pressure effects. If not, you may need to consider other forms of birth control.

Antidepressant Drugs

Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft antidepressant tablets

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Antidepressants work by altering chemicals in the body associated with mood, including serotonin and dopamine. Both of these compounds are known to affect blood pressure.

Dopamine is often used in emergency situations to increase blood pressure in those experiencing a critical drop. Serotonin has a similar effect which may further enhance dopamine's effect on the cardiovascular system.

Several types and classes of antidepressant drugs have been linked to increased blood pressure, including venlafaxine, tricyclic antidepressants, and fluoxetine.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How much can OTC medication raise your blood pressure?

    If your blood pressure is in the normal range, OTC medication should not increase it enough to be a concern. If you normally have high blood pressure, though, OTC medication may take it to a dangerous level. Always consult a physician if you have high blood pressure and need to take OTC medication that may raise it.

  • What are normal blood pressure numbers?

    A normal blood pressure range is below 120/80 mmHg.

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