Conference Coverage

Hypertension worsened by commonly used prescription meds



Nearly one out of five American adults with hypertension is on a prescription drug known to raise blood pressure, based on analysis of more than 27,000 people included in recent reports from the recurring National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

Dr. John Vitarello, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston

Dr. John Vitarello

Nearly half of these American adults had hypertension, and in this subgroup, 18.5% reported using a prescription drug known to increase blood pressure. The most widely used class of agents with this effect was antidepressants, used by 8.7%; followed by nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), used by 6.5%; steroids, 1.9%; estrogens, 1.7%; and several other agents each used by fewer than 1% of the study cohort, John Vitarello, MD, said during a press briefing on reports from the upcoming annual scientific sessions of the American College of Cardiology.

He and his associates estimated that this use of prescription drugs known to raise blood pressure could be what stands in the way of some 560,000-2.2 million Americans from having their hypertension under control, depending on the exact blood pressure impact that various pressure-increasing drugs have and presuming that half of those on blood pressure increasing agents could stop them and switch to alternative agents, said Dr. Vitarello, a researcher at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

He also highlighted that the study assessed only prescription drugs and did not examine OTC drug use, which may be especially relevant for the many people who regularly take NSAIDs.

“Clinicians should review the prescription and OTC drug use of patients with hypertension and consider stopping drugs that increase blood pressure or switching the patient to alternatives” that are blood pressure neutral, Dr. Vitarello said during the briefing. He cautioned that maintaining hypertensive patients on agents that raise their blood pressure can result in “prescribing cascades” where taking drugs that boost blood pressure results in need for intensified antihypertensive treatment.

An opportunity for NSAID alternatives

“This study hopefully raises awareness that there is a very high use of medications that increase blood pressure, and use of OTC agents could increase the rate even higher” said Eugene Yang, MD, a cardiologist and codirector of the Cardiovascular Wellness and Prevention Program of the University of Washington, Seattle. Substituting for certain antidepressant agents may often not be realistic, but an opportunity exists for reducing NSAID use, a class also linked with an increased risk for bleeding and other adverse effects, Dr. Yang said during the briefing. Minimizing use of NSAIDs including ibuprofen and naproxen use “is something to think about,” he suggested.

“The effect of NSAIDs on blood pressure is not well studied and can vary from person to person” noted Dr. Vitarello, who added that higher NSAID dosages and more prolonged use likely increase the risk for an adverse effect on blood pressure. One reasonable option is to encourage patients to use an alternative class of pain reliever such as acetaminophen.

It remains “a challenge” to discern differences in adverse blood pressure effects, and in all adverse cardiovascular effects among different NSAIDs, said Dr. Yang. Results from “some studies show that certain NSAIDs may be safer, but other studies did not. We need to be very careful using NSAIDs because, on average, they increase blood pressure by about 3 mm Hg. We need to be mindful to try to prescribe alternative agents, like acetaminophen.”

A decade of data from NHANES

The analysis run by Dr. Vitarello and associates used data from 27,599 American adults included in the NHANES during 2009-2018, and focused on the 44% who either had an average blood pressure measurement of at least 130/80 mm Hg or reported having ever been told by a clinician that they had hypertension. The NHANES assessments included the prescription medications taken by each participant. The prevalence of using at least one prescription drug known to raise blood pressure was 24% among women and 14% among men, and 4% of those with hypertension were on two or more pressure-increasing agents.

The researchers based their identification of pressure-increasing prescription drugs on the list included in the 2017 guideline for managing high blood pressure from the American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association. This list specifies that the antidepressants that raise blood pressure are the monoamine oxidase inhibitors, serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, and tricyclic antidepressants.

Dr. Vitarello and Dr. Yang had no disclosures.

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