FAQs about high blood pressure medications
Nearly 50 million Americans have high blood pressure. If you are among them, the condition is more manageable than ever, thanks to the wide range of medications available.
Of course, like most medicines, hypertension drugs can cause side effects. And they can sometimes interact with foods or supplements in ways you may not know. If you're being treated for high blood pressure, here are answers to some questions you may have.
Q. Is it OK to take over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, such as decongestants, now that I'm on hypertension medication?
A. No. Never take any other drugs—OTC or prescription—without asking your doctor first. This especially includes medications used for:
- appetite control
- sinus problem
Any of these drugs can dangerously increase your blood pressure.
Q. Can I still use natural or herbal products?
A. As with OTC drugs, always check with your doctor before using any herbal remedies or dietary supplements. Herbal products that may interact harmfully with your medication include:
- St. John's wort
- ephedra, also known as Ma huang, "Chinese ephedra," or epitonin
- bitter orange extract, also called synephrine
- lobelia, also known as Indian tobacco
- stimulant laxatives containing senna, cascara sagrada, or aloe
Q. I like to have a glass of wine several times a week. Will this affect how my medication works?
A. It may. Alcohol can strengthen the effect of certain drugs, especially beta blockers and ACE inhibitors. This can cause your blood pressure to drop to unsafe levels. Ask your doctor if you should limit your alcohol intake or avoid alcohol altogether.
Q. Does it matter what I drink to wash down my medication?
A. Yes. Researchers have discovered that taking medicine with grapefruit juice or juice made from Seville oranges can interfere with the way your body absorbs the medicine. In some people, these juices combine with the drug to lower blood pressure too much or too quickly. In other people, the juice may make the drug not work at all. If you have questions about what you can eat or drink with your medication, ask your doctor.
Q. I'm experiencing uncomfortable side effects. Can I stop taking my medicine until I talk to my doctor?
A. Side effects vary from medicine to medicine and from patient to patient. Many are mild and often subside after the body adjusts to the medication. Common side effects include dizziness, fainting, headache, rash, cough, fatigue, or weight gain. Other, more serious side effects may occur with certain medicines. Diuretics may make your skin sun-sensitive, causing rashes, itching, discoloration, or severe sunburn.
Beta blockers can intensify allergic reactions to foods, medicines, or insect stings. They also can make you more sensitive to cold temperatures. And one study has linked calcium channel blockers to feelings of depression and increased risk of suicide.
No matter what side effects appear, it's important that you never stop taking your medication without talking to your doctor first. Sudden withdrawal from a drug may cause changes in your body that are more harmful than the side effects. Your doctor can help you manage side effects by changing your dose or switching you to another type of drug. With so many medications available, nearly all patients find something that works with minimal side effects.