Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) have found that the three most commonly used drugs in the United States, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and aspirin, increase the risk of developing high blood pressure in middle-aged men. These findings are published in the Feb. 26 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

“Given the high levels of consumption of these drugs and the increasing rate of hypertension, these over-the-counter analgesics should be taken with greater caution,” says John P. Forman of the Renal Division at BWH, a Harvard-affliated hospital. “This is a potentially preventable cause of high blood pressure.”

Researchers analyzed questionnaires from 16,031 men with a mean age of 65 years old without a history of high blood pressure at baseline who are part of the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. Respondents to the questionnaires were queried about their frequency of use of acetaminophen, NSAIDs, and aspirin as well as new diagnosis of hypertension by a clinician. Forman and his colleagues observed a significant independent association between the frequency of analgesic use and risk of hypertension among all three classes of drugs studied. Specifically, researchers report that compared to men who didn’t take that analgesic:

  • Men who took acetaminophen six to seven days per week had a 34 percent increased risk of hypertension;
  • Men who took NSAIDs six to seven days per week had a 38 percent increased risk of hypertension;
  • Men who took aspirin six to seven days per week had a 26 percent increased risk of hypertension; and
  • The number of analgesic pills taken per week as well as the frequency of use were associated with a similar increase risk of hypertension.

These findings are consistent with previous results found in women in the Nurses’ Health Studies.

This research was funded by the American Heart Association and the National Institutes of Health.