Headache and High Blood Pressure:

A New Link?

Headaches are one of the common pains we get. High blood pressure is also very common, affecting about 50 million Americans. Could they be linked? Yes, but not in the way you may think. Some doctors question whether taking pain pills actually corrects the cause of the headache. But there are also other, perhaps more seemingly silent concerns. Is simply cutting the fire alarm when the house is on fire ever a good idea? If your headache is coming from a problem such as a sprained and subluxated neck, is taking a pill going to do anything to help the joint injury?

We all see the TV commercials and the long pill aisles at the supermarket. We must be consuming quite a bit and that is true. But could our excessive use of these drugs be causing another problem, one that may not be explained on the pill bottle label?

Researchers have looked at over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol) and ibuprofen (e.g. Advil), to see if taking them over the long-term elevates the risk for developing high blood pressure (Hypertension 2005;46:500. Women's Health Study I and II) The study investigated 5,123 women between the ages of 34 and 77 and followed them over many years.

Compared with women who did not use acetaminophen, the relative risk for those who took >500 mg per day was 1.93 (1.30 to 2.88) among older women. and 1.99 (1.39 to 2.85) among younger women. A relative risk of 1.93 is a 93% increase in risk. The range was a 30% increase to a 185% increase.

For nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g. ibuprofen), the risk of developing high blood pressure in older women also increased, ranging from a 78% to a 161% elevation. For younger women, the increased risks ranged from a 10% increase to a 132% increase.

Aspirin use was not associated with developing high blood pressure. The authors concluded that because acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are commonly used, they might contribute to the high prevalence (percent of the population with this disease) of high blood pressure in the United States.