Over-The-Counter Meds for Kidney Patients

What over the counter medications should I be careful about with my kidney disease?

All over-the-counter medications have the potential to be harmful and so they should only be taken according to the labels and if you have any questions you should call you doctor. However, there are a few over-the-counters that are particularly problematic for patients with weak kidneys. Here they are:

  1. Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), Naproxen (Naprosyn)
  2. Sodium phosphorous solutions (Fleets enemas or fleets oral cathartics)
  3. Magnsesium citrate (MagCitrate)
  4. Pseudophedrine
Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), Naproxen (Naprosyn). Both of these medications are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs. There are a number of other NSAIDs that are prescription only including indomethacin, Celebrex and others. The problems with NSAIDs goes for all of these agents, not just the over-the-counter ones. NSAIDs block the production of prostaglandins that trigger inflammation in the body. Unfortunately, in the kidneys, prostaglandins help maintain blood flow. Blocking prostaglandins can decrease the blood flow to the kidney and cause the kidney to shut down. This is more common when patients are also taking diuretics (water pills) and blood pressure medicines called ACE inhibitors or ARBs. (Common ACE inhibitors include Vasotec, Zestril benazapril, Altace or any drug which ends with –pril. Common ARBs include Cozaar, Diovan, and Atacand or any drug which ends with –sartan.)

NSAIDs can also interfere with blood pressure medicines and cause patients to retain fluid.

Sodium phosphorous cathartics. Fleets enemas and oral solutions are used to treat constipation or prepare patients for surgery or colonoscopy. Recently we have learned that these medications can cause severe permanent kidney damage. Little is known about how often this occurs and appears to be rare but people with normal kidney function have developed severe renal failure requiring dialysis or transplant following exposure to these medications. Unfortunately not all doctors are aware of this complication and are still prescribing these medications. A clear picture of who is at risk for this complication has not emerged but experts agree on the following risk factors:
  1. Advanced age
  2. Chronic kidney disease
  3. Use of diuretics (water pills)
  4. Use of ACE inhibitors or ARBs
In addition to the risk of damaging the kidneys with sodium phosphorous, patients on dialysis who take these drugs are at risk of severe elevations in phosphorous that may kill them.

Magnesium citrate is sold under the brand names Citro-mag and Citroma. Magnesium citrate is used to treat constipation and to cleanse the bowels before surgery. In patients with severe kidney disease (CKD stage 4 and 5 and dialysis) it can cause harmful levels of magnesium.

Pseudoephedrine is the active ingredient in some cold medicines (Actifed, Sudafed) that are now kept behind the counter due to the fact that pseudoephedrine is one of the ingredients needed to manufacture methamphetamine (crystal meth). Pseudoephedrine raises the blood pressure by about one point and the heart rate by about 2 beats per minute in patients with normal blood pressure or people with well-controlled high blood pressure. This should not cause any problems. However, in patients with poorly controlled or untreated hypertension, pseudoephedrine may cause larger changes in blood pressure and should only be used after speaking with your doctor.

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2009 Colorado Springs Nephrology