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Worried About High Blood Pressure Drug Recalls?

A cardiologist tells you what you should—and shouldn’t—do.

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Photo credit: Getty Images
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Dear Doctor,

I’ve been taking blood pressure medication for two years, and it’s working well. But it’s freaking me out that all of these high blood pressure medications are being recalled because they may cause cancer! The drug I take hasn’t been recalled, but I’m worried that it could be any day now, and then what do I do? To be on the safe side, should I stop taking my medication and try to lower my blood pressure with lifestyle changes alone?

Sincerely,

“Hyped Up about Hypertension”

Dear Hyped Up:

It’s good that you are staying informed about health news and taking ownership of your healthcare decisions, but the first thing to keep in mind is that high blood pressure is not something to take lightly. It’s a significant risk factor for heart disease and stroke, and after cigarette smoking, it’s the risk factor that is the most modifiable. And the consequences of having uncontrolled high blood pressure go beyond just heart attacks and strokes: High blood pressure also increases your risk of heart failure, kidney disease, and dementia.

It’s also really important to know that we changed our definition of high blood pressure in 2017 because we discovered that numbers even lower than 140/90 can be dangerous; new guidelines recommend everyone stay below 129/80. So, treating blood pressure appropriately is critical.

The truth is that stopping your blood pressure medication is infinitely more dangerous than the risk of taking one of these medications, and that’s true even for the drugs that have been recalled—valsartan, losartan, and Irbesartan.

According to the FDA, the risk of cancer with one of these recalled drugs is extremely small. The FDA estimates that if 8,000 people took the highest dose from a recalled batch every day for four years, there would likely only be one additional case of cancer in those 8,000 people.

Keep in mind, too, that managing high blood pressure is never about just taking a pill. It really requires a holistic approach that includes lifestyle changes, including eating a heart-healthy diet, getting regular exercise, losing weight if you’re overweight and making sure you’re getting adequate sleep. It should never be an either/or proposition, and taking a pill to control your high blood pressure doesn’t mean you’ve failed at managing the problem. For some people, high blood pressure is genetic, so no amount of lifestyle changes can mitigate the need for medications.

If the drug you’re taking is recalled, the best thing to do is see your doctor so you can discuss your options. There’s no risk in taking another week of pills, or even another month of pills, until you see your doctor. There are many medicines that we can prescribe for high blood pressure, so your doctor will be able to find a medication that will be safe and work for you.

“The truth is that stopping your blood pressure medication is infinitely more dangerous than the risk of taking one of these medications, and that’s true even for the drugs that have been recalled.”
Dr. Stacey E. Rosen, cardiologist
A blond woman in blue and white striped sweater smiles against a brick wall.
Dr. Stacey E. Rosen, cardiologist | Photo credit: The Well

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Published February 19th, 2019
A variety of foods including salmon, avocado, fruits and grains are organized in the shape of a heart and lay on a white farm table.

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