Published on October 23, 2017

Q&A: OTC Medications

with Dr. Idoko, family medicine

Advice about OTC drugs and supplements for heart patients

Dr. IdokoWhen you feel a cold coming on, reaching for an over-the-counter (OTC) cold medicine might seem like a good idea. But you should be cautious if you have a heart problem or high blood pressure. Omeche J. Idoko, MD, a family physician at Mercy Fitzgerald, explains why.

What are potential risks to heart patients taking OTC medicines? 

The major concern is for people who have high blood pressure, which includes most people who have a heart condition. In particular, they should avoid OTC decongestants that contain pseudoephedrine. These medicines tend to elevate blood pressure. And that could indirectly worsen your heart condition by keeping your blood pressure elevated even if you’re on many different blood pressure medications. Some other OTC cold medicines, such as Coricidin, are often recommended for people with high blood pressure.

What about taking OTC herbs or supplements?

Just because you bought something over the counter doesn’t mean it’s safe. For example, if you’re on a cholesterol-lowering statin, I would ask you not to take St. John’s wort because it makes a statin less effective. Even vitamin E can interfere with the blood thinners many heart patients take to prevent clots.

What if I have questions about OTC medicines or supplements?

Don’t hesitate to talk with your doctor or pharmacist. It’s also a good idea to bring all of your meds to your doctor visits. At those visits, you and your doctor can discuss drug-to-drug interactions and the potential for side effects.