Acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen — these over-the- counter (OTC) drugs are common and most likely you have a few brand-name versions of them in your medicine cabinet right now. Many of us pop them to deal with pain, thinking that there are no risks tied to these medications. However, as with any drug, there are risks associated with OTC painkillers. Now, according to a new study, if you are male and in your senior years, it turns out that OTC drugs can pose a rather unexpected risk — high blood pressure.
According to the study, which was published in the February 26 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine (associated with JAMA), older men who routinely take OTC medications such as acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen face a higher risk of developing high blood pressure, as compared to older men who do not take the drugs on a regular basis.
In two past studies that looked at how these OTC drugs affected hypertension (high blood pressure) levels in women, researchers found that there was indeed a link to common usage of these popular medications. This study is the first one to explore this link specifically in men in a more extensive manner.
The research team assessed 16,031 males with no previous history of high blood pressure (the average age of these participants sat at 64.6 years). The men were then asked at two time points (in 2000 and 2002). The researchers specifically asked if the participants used the following OTC drugs: acetaminophen; non-steroidal anti- inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which include ibuprofen and naproxen; and aspirin. The researchers also had the participants note whether or not their doctors diagnosed them as having hypertension during this time.
After four years, the researchers discovered that 1,968 men in the study developed hypertension. The numbers broke down as follows: Men taking acetaminophen six or seven days a week faced a 34% higher risk of developing hypertension. Men who took NSAIDs six or seven days a week faced a 38% higher risk. And, finally, men who took aspirin six or seven days a weeks saw a 26% higher risk. Also, as compared to those men who took no pills at all, those taking 15 or more pills per week faced a 48% greater risk of developing hypertension, which is quite substantial.
So why do OTC drugs have an adverse affect on older males in this way? The researchers speculated that since the three drugs assessed in the study are analgesics, they inhibit the effects that chemical have on relaxing the blood vessels in the body. Also, this is compounded by the fact that age is a known risk factor in the development of hypertension. The researchers looked at if the risk varied with older age (assessing the results for those individuals who were 60, between 60 and 70, and 70 and up), but they found “little change” in the results.
According to the study’s authors, “Given their common consumption and the high prevalence of hypertension, our results may have substantial public health implications and suggest that these agents be used with greater caution. The contribution of non-narcotic analgesics to the hypertension disease burden merits further study.”
We’ll keep you posted on any new developments when it comes to the link between hypertension and OTC drugs. For now, speak to your doctor about the drugs you are taking and if they are putting you at a greater risk for this condition.