The Hidden Ingredient in Your Painkillers

Concerns about hidden ingredients in medications and supplements are not new.  But researchers at the University of Dundee and University College in London are so concerned about one particular ingredient that they’re saying the public “should be warned about the potential dangers”, and the tablets “should be prescribed with caution only if the perceived benefits outweigh the risks.”

That ingredient?  Sodium.

Yes, sodium – as in, salt.

Sodium - hidden in your painkillers?

But at such high levels that it could cause some serious risks.

When it comes to ibuprofen medications, as an example, there are already concerns about increased risk of heart disease.  Since migraine patients are already at an increased risk of heart disease, they need to be cautious about how much they take.

But it turns out that there’s another reason to be concerned particularly about those versions of these medications that are soluble or “effervescent”.  Taking the maximum dose of some of these may mean you’re over your daily limit of salt, even if you don’t eat anything else all day!  And it’s often these versions that are recommended for migraine, because they’re “fast acting”.

This particular study compared patients who had taken high-sodium versions of medications such as ibuprofen, aspirin, and acetaminophen / paracetamol with those who took the same medications, but versions that were sodium-free.

The sodium did make a significant difference.  The report in the British Medical Journal explains (emphasis mine):

Overall, the researchers found that patients taking the sodium-containing effervescent, dispersible and soluble medications had a 16% increased risk of a heart attack, stroke or vascular death compared with other patients taking the non-sodium versions of those exact medications.

Patients taking the sodium-containing drugs were also seven times more likely to develop high blood pressure and overall death rates were also 28% higher in this group.  These events are largely driven by an increased risk of hypertension and stroke.

Of course it’s no secret that patients should take these medications with caution, and not use them frequently and especially not long-term.  At least, it shouldn’t be a secret.

But researchers are encouraging doctors to watch patients closely when they feel that these medications must be prescribed.  And they’re also calling for better labelling on medications containing sodium.

As for patients, researchers have this recommendation:

It’s an avoidable risk and it’s a cardiovascular risk which is the commonest cause of death in Britain. If you take these drugs every day it would be better for your health to take the normal versions, not the soluble ones.

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1 comment… add one
  • Fiona Jan 10, 2014

    Commonest? Seriously?!

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