Cleveland Clinic. The goal is to
take the lowest amount for the
shortest period of time that will
relieve your symptoms.
If you’re taking a blood thinner
or medicines to treat heart
failure, don’t take any vitamins or
supplements without checking
with your doctor first. Supplements
can affect heart medicines you’re
taking, and the results can be
dangerous. For example, the
herb St. John’s wort is often
recommended for depression,
(brand name Coumadin®) and digoxin, which is used to treat heart
failure symptoms. “[This breakdown] could potentially lead to
clotting,” says Strawser.
If you’re already taking a prescription statin to control your
cholesterol, don’t take the supplement red yeast rice. This
product is marketed as a “natural” statin. The process by which a
prescription statin is metabolized (processed by the body) in the
liver may compete with enzymes that process other drugs, says
If you’re taking medicine to control high blood pressure or
arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms), be careful when looking for
a medicine to treat cold or flu symptoms. Many OTC cold and flu
medicines contain the nasal decongestant pseudoephedrine. This
is a stimulant that can increase your blood pressure and heart rate.
Use a saline nasal spray to flush things out or a decongestant nasal
spray instead to help reduce swelling. Ask your doctor which one
may work best for you.
If allergies are bothering you, you may look for an antihistamine
to stop itching or help a sneezy, runny nose. But if you have a heart
condition, antihistamines can cause a fast heartbeat. If you have
this reaction, stop taking the antihistamine right away and call your
Also be aware of any OTC medicines or supplements that
may contain caffeine. For example, green tea extract contains
caffeine and is marketed in pill form as a health supplement. Some
combination headache and migraine pills may contain caffeine.
Caffeine can affect sleep, make you nervous, increase your heart
rate and even cause irregular heartbeats in people who are very
sensitive to it.
If you’re looking for relief from aches and pains, the most used
OTC medicines are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
These include ibuprofen (brand names Advil® and Motrin®) or
naproxen (brand name Aleve®). Be aware that prescription and
other OTC medicines like cold and flu medicines or sleep aids could
also contain NSAIDs.
OTC NSAIDs are labeled for up to 10 days of use. If you need
pain relief after 10 days, contact your doctor. The risk of heart
attack or stroke may increase if you use more than directed or for
longer than directed.
NSAIDs may upset your stomach and cause pain or even
bleeding. The chance of your stomach bleeding from taking an
NSAID increases if you take a blood thinner or steroid.
You should never take an NSAID right before or after heart
surgery. If you have high blood pressure, heart disease, liver
cirhhosis or kidney disease, ask your doctor or pharmacist if you
should take an NSAID. Some people can have heartburn or
diarrhea from taking NSAIDs.
That old standby, aspirin, is an NSAID. It’s used to reduce pain
and fever. It’s also recommended to slow down blood clotting,
often at a lower dose (a “baby” aspirin). If you’re already taking
prescription anti-clotting medicines, don’t take aspirin without talking
to your doctor first. And if you’re already taking aspirin for heart
attack or stroke, talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking
ibuprofen because it can decrease the benefit of aspirin.
Acetaminophen, which is sold under the brand name Tylenol®,
is another popular OTC medicine. More than 600 OTC and
prescription medicines contain acetaminophen. It’s safe and
effective for reducing pain and relieving fever. However, if you take
more than one medicine that contains acetaminophen, you could
take too much, which could cause liver damage.
DON’T “MIX IT UP”
Before you take more than one medicine at a time, it’s best to
leave managing a “drug-drug” interaction to your healthcare
providers. Be prepared when you see your doctor by keeping a
list of all medicines you’re currently taking. This list should include
prescriptions, OTC drugs, vitamins and supplements. Update the list
whenever anything changes. Print out a current sheet to take with
you. Not sharing information could be hazardous to your health.
“Don’t guess, but always ask if you have any questions,” says