People are calling it the cough from hell – a hacking, non-stop cough that arrives out of nowhere and lingers for months.
It can leave you breathless and unable to speak. Some people have reported passing out after episodes that lasted for several minutes.
The thousands of people suffering through these agonizing coughing fits have been misdiagnosed with allergies… bronchitis… or even asthma. Many have even been handed large doses of dangerous steroids and narcotics.
But what they haven’t been told is that the real cause of their misery may be one of the most common blood pressure drugs on the market today – a class of meds that tops the sales charts year after year.
The cough from hell is just one of its terrible side effects. And doctors are having a nearly impossible time diagnosing and treating it – even after you stop taking the pills.
Oblivious to the obvious
Emma’s coughing was so uncontrollable that she threw up “at least a dozen times.” Her work as a real estate agent ground to a halt after she could no longer talk for more than five minutes without having an attack.
“It has cost me time, money, joy and basically I stay more to myself,” she said.
Emma spent more than six months on a medical merry-go-round as her doctor sent her for chest X-rays and prescribed everything from steroid shots to narcotic cough suppressants. Nothing worked until an alert nurse finally asked the million-dollar question.
She wondered if Emma was taking an ACE inhibitor called lisinopril.
Emma is just one of countless people who developed a debilitating cough after being prescribed an ACE inhibitor for high blood pressure. People on ACE inhibitors describe agonizing spasms of coughing, choking and watering eyes that leave them unable to work or even go out in public.
There are more than 100 million prescriptions for ACE inhibitors handed out in America each year, and as many as 35 percent of people who take the drugs experience a nagging cough.
But because chronic coughing can be caused by so many different conditions, many of these patients suffer for months or longer without being properly diagnosed.
Pharmacist Armon B. Neel, Jr. says that many patients he hears from who have this unstoppable cough are treated for a whole list of respiratory ailments such as sinusitis, bronchitis, laryngitis and asthma. That means having to take additional risky medications when their problems “are all a result of the ACE-inhibitor therapy.”
One woman was even prescribed a bladder control drug when she told her doctor that she was coughing so hard she wet her pants!
The reason ACE inhibitors cause prolonged coughing fits in some people, and not others, appears to be connected to how well your kidneys are working, Neel says.
ACE inhibitors affect the way your kidneys filter toxins out of your blood. And when your kidneys aren’t 100 percent effective, it’s possible for toxic levels of byproducts from these meds, called kinins, to accumulate in your bloodstream.
These kinins can then become lodged in your bronchial tubes, resulting in recurring spells of coughing.
It can take up to several months to lose the cough once you discontinue one of these ACE inhibitors. But even when doctors warn patients about the coughing risks linked to the drugs, they may downplay the seriousness of the problem.
K.R., a nurse, said her doctor told her she might get a slight cough, but that “it wouldn’t be too bad.”
Unfortunately her coughing fits turned out to be so severe it became almost impossible to care for her patients, many of whom worried she was suffering from something contagious. Her husband even told her she sounded like she had tuberculosis.
“Hindsight is a virtue,” she said, “and if I had known about how annoying this side effect could be, I never would have initiated the treatment.”
So if you’re taking an ACE inhibitor and are suffering from a nagging, constant cough, talk with your doctor about changing meds – but make sure it’s not to another one of these ACE drugs.
Some of the most popular ACE inhibitors are sold under these brand names:* Capoten, Lotensin, Vasotec, Monopril and Accupril. And the best-selling drug of all goes under the generic name lisinopril, sold as Prinivil and Zestril.
Or better yet, see if you can get off of blood pressure drugs entirely. Sometimes simple lifestyle changes can be all it takes to get your blood pressure under control – without risking the cough from hell or any other terrible side effects.
*The generic names of these drugs are: captopril, benazepril, enalapril, fosinopril, Lisinopril, moexipril, perindopril, quinapril, Ramipril and trandolapril.
“Why do so many doctors ignore obvious drug side effects?” The People’s Pharmacy, May 14, 2015, peoplespharmacy.com