A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Heart condition? Check your medicine cabinet

medicine cabinetIf you have a heart condition, you’ll want to take a close look at the over-the-counter and prescription medicines you’re taking.

Some medicines aren’t safe for people with heart conditions because they make heart problems worse or interfere with heart medications, Marshfield Clinic cardiologist Dr. M. Diaa Alaoua said.

“Always ask your doctor before starting a new medicine,” Alaoua said. “Remind your doctor of your heart condition and ask if the medicine is suitable for you to take.”

Patients also should check the information included with new prescriptions for heart condition warnings, he said.

Skip these OTC medicines if you have a heart condition

You may be surprised to learn drugs that can harm your heart are found in most medicine cabinets.


Decongestants provide cold relief by narrowing blood vessels in the nose. They also narrow blood vessels all over the body, which raises blood pressure and can cause problems if you have congestive heart failure.

Decongestants also may trigger palpitations if you have a history of heart rhythm problems, Alaoua said.

Besides medicines clearly labeled as decongestants, avoid medicines with a –D (which stands for decongestant) at the end of the name, like Claritin-D.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

NSAIDs, known to most people as ibuprofen, Aleve, Motrin and Advil, aren’t safe to take for pain relief if you have a heart problem.

These pain relievers raise blood pressure by causing the body to retain water and salt.

NSAIDs also interfere with blood thinners and reduce the effectiveness of ACE inhibitors, a type of medicine used to treat heart conditions. Reducing the effectiveness of heart medications puts patients at risk for worsening heart failure, Alaoua said.

If you need to take pain reliever, use low-dose (baby) aspirin if approved by your doctor, or take Tylenol.

Weight-loss medications

Appetite suppressants are the most risky weight-loss medications for people with heart problems. Even products labeled ‘herbal’ or ‘natural’ may be unsafe, Alaoua said.

Like NSAIDs, they can raise blood pressure, damage heart valves and block the absorption of heart medicines, making them less effective.

Prescriptions medications known to cause heart problems

Watch out for some prescription drugs known to pose risks for heart patients.

Migraine medicine

The prescription migraine medicine Imitrex may narrow blood vessels, cause heart rhythm disturbances and increase your risk for a heart attack.


Some antidepressants, such as citalopram, affect the electrical circuitry of the heart, Alaoua said. Ask your doctor if the antidepressant you’re being prescribed is safe for you.


Certain antibiotics are good at fighting infections but aren’t good for the heart. Levaquin and azithromycin, often used to treat respiratory infections, may affect heart rhythm if you are already on certain heart medicines and increase the risk for sudden cardiac death.

Calcium channel blockers

Some calcium channel blockers are used to treat high blood pressure but aren’t recommended for people with heart failure.

Cancer drugs

Some cancer drugs, including Doxorubicin and Herceptin, are known to weaken the heart muscle. Your doctor may perform frequent heart function tests and stop the medication if it’s harming your heart.

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