What Cold and Flu Medications Are Safe With High Blood Pressure?

Having a cold or the flu can leave you feeling drained and miserable and searching for relief. Many cold and flu medications are available as over-the-counter treatments, but not all are safe for high blood pressure.

While many multi-symptom cold and flu remedies are available, some contain ingredients that can elevate blood pressure and are unsafe for those who already have this condition.

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What are the most common cold and flu symptoms?

The common cold and flu, or influenza, are contagious respiratory ailments. While the illnesses produce many of the same symptoms, they are caused by different viruses. The flu is only caused by influenza viruses, while several other viruses can cause the common cold.

Because the two conditions have similar symptoms, it can be challenging to tell the difference between them based solely on the symptoms. However, in general, cold symptoms are milder, while flu symptoms tend to come on quickly and are more intense.

Typically, fever and headache are common flu symptoms but rarer with a cold. Body aches, fatigue, weakness, and chills are more common and severe in flu.

While both illnesses can cause a cough and chest discomfort, people with colds almost always experience sneezing and a runny or stuffy nose. In contrast, these symptoms only occur occasionally in people with the flu.

Can you take cold and flu tablets with blood pressure medication?

Anyone can get the flu and the associated complications from influenza, including bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, and even death in people of any age or state of health.

Certain groups of people have a higher risk of developing severe flu-related complications.¹ These groups include people 65 and over, pregnant women, and children under five.

High-risk groups also include people of any age with a chronic medical condition. The flu can worsen chronic medical conditions like asthma, diabetes, cardiovascular issues, and high blood pressure.

Typically, your doctor will recommend rest and plenty of fluids to treat the flu unless you have a severe infection or are at risk of complications. Unfortunately, there is no cure, and cold and flu medications won’t make the illness go away any quicker. Still, many people often turn to them to find some relief from the symptoms until it passes.

There is a wide variety of over-the-counter cold and flu medications² available. Most of these products are multi-symptom formulas, which contain several drugs to relieve the common cold and the flu symptoms.

For example, it’s common for these medications to include a cough suppressant, acetaminophen or ibuprofen to help reduce pain and inflammation, and a decongestant to help with nasal stuffiness.

While controlling your symptoms is vital, it’s equally important to be aware of the potential side effects and possible complications of any medication you decide to take. For example, some cold and flu remedies are safe to take by people with high blood pressure, while others might not. 

Like other over-the-counter medications, you should be extra cautious if you have high blood pressure and take medication to control it.

What cold and flu medicine ingredients should I avoid with high blood pressure?

Many cold and flu medications can increase blood pressure, especially in people already struggling to control it. If you are taking medication to control your blood pressure or have a history of high blood pressure, you need to be extremely careful to avoid taking cold and flu medications that contain decongestants.

Cold and flu remedies often add a decongestant to help temporarily relieve a blocked or stuffy nose. Decongestants are commonly used to ease the symptoms of nasal congestion associated with hay fever, allergic reactions, and the common cold or influenza.

Decongestants are a significant concern³ for people with high blood pressure because of how the drugs work. Decongestants reduce nasal stuffiness by causing the blood vessels in the nose to constrict.

This constriction reduces swelling in the nose and allows you to breathe easier. However,  it can also cause blood vessels in other parts of the body to constrict, which can inadvertently increase your blood pressure.

To help keep your blood pressure under control, avoid over-the-counter products and multi-symptom cold and flu medications that contain decongestants. The most common decongestants include pseudoephedrine, ephedrine, phenylephrine, naphazoline, and oxymetazoline.

You should always choose a cold and flu medication that matches the symptoms you are experiencing and avoid taking unnecessary medicines just because they are part of the formula.

In addition, some over-the-counter medications have a high sodium content,⁴ so aside from checking the label to see if decongestants are present, you should also check the product’s sodium content, as that can also raise your blood pressure.

Can I take Tylenol Cold and Flu with high blood pressure?

According to the ingredients listed by the manufacturer,⁵ Tylenol Cold and Flu products contain phenylephrine, which is used as a nasal decongestant. Decongestants are not recommended for people with high blood pressure trying to keep it under control.

Additionally, among the other warnings associated with this product is the recommendation to consult with your doctor before taking it if you have high blood pressure.

Can I take NyQuil Cold and Flu with high blood pressure?

Manufactured by Vicks, there are different NyQuil Cold and Flu products,⁶ including one specifically formulated for people with high blood pressure. Vicks NyQuil High Blood Pressure Cold and Flu Medicine are marketed as a product that will safely relieve cold and flu symptoms in people with high blood pressure.

Note, however, that the active ingredients of NyQuil Cold and Flu⁷ and Vicks NyQuil High Blood Pressure Cold and Flu Medicine⁷ are the same.

While NyQuil doesn’t contain any decongestants, their cold and flu products include an antihistamine called doxylamine succinate and a cough suppressant called dextromethorphan. While cough suppressants won’t typically affect your blood pressure, an antihistamine can.

If you’re taking medication to control your high blood pressure, combining it with certain types of antihistamine may affect your heart rate and your blood pressure. Therefore, if you have high blood pressure, you should consult your doctor before taking any NyQuil Cold and Flu products.

Is Theraflu safe to take with high blood pressure?

Theraflu is another well-known multi-symptom product formulated to relieve cold and flu symptoms.

Like many over-the-counter cold and flu remedies, Theraflu’s active ingredients⁸ include a cough suppressant; acetaminophen to reduce body aches and fever; and phenylephrine, a nasal decongestant. Avoid phenylephrine if you have high blood pressure.

What cold and flu medicines are safe with high blood pressure?

Over-the-counter multi-symptom cold and flu medications are convenient and can effectively relieve various cold and flu symptoms. Unfortunately, because they contain several drugs, you often end up taking medicine for a symptom you don’t have.

If you have high blood pressure, you have the added risk of elevated blood pressure from the active ingredients themselves or interaction with your blood pressure medicine.

If you decide to try a cold and flu medication, choose one formulated for people with high blood pressure. Read the label carefully. Never select a formula that contains a decongestant. 

Closely read the label warnings as well. Avoid any medication with a warning label stating that people with high blood pressure and those who take medication should not take it without consulting a doctor.

If you are suffering from a fever, sore throat, headache, or body aches, aspirin or acetaminophen may provide relief without taking a remedy that has medications for symptoms you don’t have. 

What other treatment options can safely relieve cold and flu symptoms for people with high blood pressure?

Over-the-counter cold and flu medications are not the only treatment option for many cold and flu symptoms. Often, mild to moderate symptoms can be relieved with safe treatments that do not affect your blood pressure.

Here are some of them:

Saline nasal spray 

Using a saline nasal spray is an effective option for clearing nasal congestion. A saline nasal spray can help flush your sinuses and wash away particles, allergens, and germs.

Saltwater gargle

Gargling with warm salt water or drinking warm water or tea with lemon juice and honey can often relieve a sore or scratchy throat.

Rest and plenty of fluids

If you feel ill and start to show symptoms of a cold or the flu, take it easy and rest. Also, drinking plenty of fluids such as water, juice, tea, or soup will keep you hydrated and help clear the phlegm and mucus from your lungs.

The lowdown

When it comes to your health, it always pays to be cautious. While you should avoid most multi-symptom cold and flu medications if you have high blood pressure, cold and flu medications are available that are specifically formulated for your condition.

Even with these, however, it’s always best to check with your doctor before taking over-the-counter medications.

Have you considered clinical trials for High blood pressure?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for High blood pressure, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Joining community groups and exercise programs for my condition made me feel empowered – but I want to be part of finding a cure.
Peter, 64


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