Alka Seltzer, Other Soluble Drugs with Sodium May Pose Heart Risks: Study

Taking effervescent and soluble medicines, such as Alka Seltzer and other high-sodium drugs, could increase the risk of heart problems, according to the findings of new research.  

In a study published in the British Medical Journal on November 26, researchers found that use of so-called “fizzy” medications containing high levels of sodium increase the risk of stroke, high blood pressure and other cardiovascular problems.

Researchers looked at data on 1,292,237 patients from 1987 to 2010, finding more than 61,000 who had cardiovascular incidents. They found that, overall, patients taking dispersible and soluble versions of drugs, typically products that are dropped in water to dissolve and bubble before being consumed, had a 16% increased risk of cardiovascular events.

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The primary event associated with effervescent and soluble medicines was a 22% increased risk of stroke. However, researchers also found that the risk of high blood pressure increased by a factor of seven, and there was a 28% higher rate of death among soluble medication users.

The sodium content was identified by researchers as the likely cause of these increases. They warned that the content was so high in some cases that someone taking the maximum recommended dosage for one day would exceed their daily recommended limit for sodium; and that was without factoring sodium from eating.

“Our results suggest that physicians should prescribe sodium-containing formulations with caution and only if there are compelling reasons to do so,” the researchers concluded. “Sodium loaded effervescent, soluble, or dispersible tablets should be avoided in patients at risk of hypertension, and patients prescribed these drugs should be carefully monitored for the emergence of hypertension.”

The researchers note that while they only had data on prescribed medications, they believe that the same risks apply to over-the-counter drugs like Alka Seltzer. They note that pharmaceutical companies are not under the same sodium reporting requirements as food manufacturers, and said that should probably change. The researchers said that over-the-counter effervescent medications, particularly those whose therapeutic effects might be questionable, should undergo a risk-benefit analysis.

“We believe that our findings are potentially of public health importance,” the researchers noted in their conclusions. “The sodium content of medicines seems to be an important topic that needs to be dealt with by regulatory agencies. As a minimum, the public should be warned about the potential hazards of high sodium consumption in prescribed medicines, and these should be clearly labelled with the sodium content in the same way as foods are labeled.”


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