Everyday pain relief: High blood pressure
Some common over-the-counter medicines taken for pain may raise your blood pressure even higher. Here's what you need to know.
Medically Reviewed by
Dr Peter Ilves
Some over-the-counter painkillers can push your blood pressure higher. They
can even be risky if taken for prolonged periods and at higher doses. If you
already have high blood pressure then you should take great care what you take
and consult your pharmacist or doctor for further advice. Since high blood
pressure usually has no symptoms that you can feel, you may be harming yourself
without realising it.
"People with high blood pressure don't know the risks of taking some of
these painkillers", says cardiologist Dr Nieca Goldberg. "They assume that
anything you can buy over the counter is safe. But these drugs are chemicals
that can cause side effects." However, it is now clear that many people are
becoming more cautious with over the counter medicines, which is a good
The problem isn't only with painkillers. In fact, many remedies for colds,
sinus problems and even heartburn may contain the same ingredients.
If you have high blood pressure, keeping it under control is crucial. So,
before you reach for a packet of painkillers for your next backache, learn some
dos and don'ts.
How do pain relief medications work?
In a certain way, all pain is in your head. When we feel pain, it's the
result of an electrical signal being sent from the nerves in a part of your
body to your brain.
However, the whole process isn't electrical. When tissue is injured (by a
sprained ankle, for instance), the cells release certain chemicals in response.
These chemicals cause inflammation and amplify the electrical signal coming
from the nerves. As a result, they increase the pain you feel.
Most painkillers work by blocking the effects of these pain chemicals. The
problem is that you can't focus most pain relievers specifically on your
headache or bad back. Instead, it travels through your whole body. This can
cause some unexpected side effects.
What are the risks for people with high blood pressure?
For people with high blood pressure, some types of nonsteroidal
anti-inflammatory drugs ( NSAIDs) can be risky. All NSAIDS must be taken with
care. It is generally accepted that Ibuprofen has a reasonable safety record.
Naproxen is a stronger NSAID and is said to be safer for the heart and has a
better risk profile. Although other NSAIDS such as diclofenac, ketoprofen and
the COX2 inhibitors should be used with more caution, if you have asked for
advice and use them in accordance with this advice, you should be fine. Aspirin
is also a NSAID and is now mainly used in low doses to prevent cardiovascular
disease and blood clots. It is less commonly recommended as a pain reliever. It
can begin to irritate the stomach with time.
Other pain relievers may be less dangerous. Paracetamol is a different type
of painkiller that doesn't raise blood pressure as a side effect. However, like
any medication, it does have side effects of its own. You shouldn't take any
over-the-counter painkiller for more than 10 days without your doctor’s
approval. However, if any pain is worsening and not controlled by your
self-treatment, you should seek help quickly. Moderate to severe pain should
never be left without an explanation.