Painkillers, heartburn medications and more could trigger heart failure

Ibuprofen, cold and flu remedies and indigestion pills could worsen heart failure, experts have warned.

The American Heart Association has issued a scientific statement today, warning about the unintended consequences of people with weak hearts who regularly take every-day drugs. It urges doctors to check all patients’ medications thoroughly to ensure they aren’t inadvertently putting their lives at risk. The organisation is one of the largest and most influential in the world and its recommendations will be closely heeded by medical professionals all around the world.

Heart failure occurs when the heart muscle is too weak to pump blood around the body, causing extreme tiredness, breathlessness and swelling of the legs. It usually develops in patients who have previously suffered a heart attack or stroke, and symptoms tend to deteriorate with time. But AHA experts are concerned that some common medications cause the body to store excess fluid and salt, which means the heart has to work harder.

Associate Professor Robert Page, from the University of Colorado and chair of the writing committee for the new statement, said: “Patients have been taught to read food labels for sodium content, but they also need to read labels on over-the-counter medications and natural supplements.” He added, “Keep a list of all your medications and doses to show at every medical visit, and inform a healthcare provider treating your heart failure before stopping or starting any medication.”


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The statement said non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, including commonly used painkillers such as ibuprofen (found in Nurofen cold and flu relief), can prompt heart failure by causing the retention of sodium and fluids. This in turn makes medicines that are used to treat blood pressure ineffective.Over-the counter heartburn medications and cold remedies may also contain undesirable amounts of sodium, the statement said. Patients with heart failure are also being urged to avoid green tea, grapefruit juice, liquorice and some herbs as this may also weaken the heart.

Dr Mariell Jessup, professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in the US and member of the American Heart Association said: “There’s a wide variety of people who should be aware these aren’t harmless drugs. The most important thing is that heart failure patients monitor themselves every morning. We ask them to weigh themselves every day and be aware that food and other substances can cause them to hold on to salt and water.”

Patients should also steer clear of natural remedies such as liquorice, St John’s Wort and ginseng, particularly if their symptoms worsen. Today’s statement reminds doctors not to prescribe a wide range of pills for blood pressure, depression, arthritis and certain other conditions, which are already known to aggravate the heart.

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