High Salt in Medicines Could Put Some at Risk

Salt in Medicines

A group of researchers at University College London and the University of Dundee say that certain medicines that are high in salt could put patients are greater risk for heart attack and stroke.

The problem with these medications is that they are so high in sodium that they can cause patients to exceed the daily limit for this mineral even without them getting any extra salt from their food intake.

The team says that the people should be advised about these risks and that medications which contain a high level of salt should only be prescribed carefully in patients who are watching their sodium intake.

They say they would also like for medicines to be labelled with their salt content similarly to how foods are currently labelled.

Although studies have shown that excessive salt intake is harmful to health, many medicines have salt added to them in order to help them be better absorbed by the body.  Unfortunately, it is not yet known just what effect this might be having on health.

Dr. Jacob George of the University of Dundee, led the study.

In the study, he and his team compared the risk for heart- and vascular-related events – such as heart attack, stroke or vascular death – in patients taking sodium-containing medications versus those taking versions of the same drugs without salt.  The study was conducted between the years 1987 to 2010.

Over 1.2 million patients in the United Kingdom were tracked for the study for an average period of about seven years.  Any factors which might also influence a patient’s risk – like body mass index, alcohol consumption, smoking, chronic illnesses and other medication use – were also tracked.

During the study, over 61,000 cardiovascular events occurred.

Overall, the scientists found that the patients who were taking medicines that contained sodium had a 16 percent greater risk of having a cardiovascular-related event.  Also, they were seven times more likely to develop high blood pressure and they had a 28 percent higher death rate.  These events are mainly driven by a patient’s increased risk for high blood pressure and stroke, they said.

While the study authors say that the link between dietary salt intake and heart attack and stroke is controversial, they believe that their findings are possibly important to public health.

Further, they conclude that medicines containing sodium should be prescribed cautiously, with patients being monitored very closely for any signs that they are developing high blood pressure.

The medicines of concern include soluble and effervescent medications such as common cold formulas and soluble pain killers.  One popular brand, Alka Seltzer, lists the sodium content of its product at 445 mg per tablet.  The  American Heart Association recommends that all people should reduce their sodium intake to less than 1,500 mg per day.  People on reduced salt diets may be advised by their doctors to go lower than this, sometimes cutting out sodium from their diet completely.

The study was published on November 26, 2013 in the British Medical Journal.

By Nancy Schimelpfening


High Salt Levels in Common Medicines Put Patients at Increased Risk of Cardiovascular Events – EurekaAlert!

Salt in Medicine ‘Poses a Health Risk’ – BBC

About Alka Seltzer – Bayer Corporation

How Much Should I Limit Sodium? – American Heart Association

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