How to trade a stuffy nose for a stroke

For a large class of seemingly unrelated Rx and OTC meds, this should be the final nail in the coffin.

First, we heard that they can cause brain shrinkage (yes, brain shrinkage!), leading to dementia and Alzheimer’s. Then, a study early last year found that when seniors take these meds, it ups the risk that they’ll land in the ER.

What more bad news could we possibly hear?

Well, how about more than doubling your chance of having a stroke?

A large study just completed by Scotland’s University of Aberdeen has connected the last group of dots, telling us that this big category of drugs — which includes ones used to help you sleep, manage pain, and even relieve allergies — could be even more dangerous than originally suspected.

That’s saying a lot!

And when you hear the names of some of these popular meds, I know you’re going to be as shocked as I was (and running to check your medicine cabinet!).

A multiple menace

Although a stroke can happen at any age, the numbers are telling us that the lion’s share (more than three-quarters) are suffered by those over 65.

And, as another cheery statistic, that threat is said to double for every decade after 55.

So how can you lower your risk of this devastating assault on your brain?

Sources like the Mayo Clinic will tell you to avoid taking “illicit drugs” like cocaine and methamphetamines… but your days of rocking and rolling all night (and partying every day) are either far behind you… or never happened in the first place!

Along with that, you’ll hear about such conditions as high blood pressure and diabetes as primary causes, and that’s true. But that’s not the whole story, either.

Because now it’s time to include something else on that list of possible causes for a stroke – and it’s perfectly legal, easy to buy, and approved by the FDA!

I’m talking about a very large class of meds known to have “anticholinergic” activity (which means they block an important brain chemical considered to be a critical neurotransmitter).

As an eAlert reader, that name might ring a bell. We’ve told you about several other studies done over the years linking meds in that class to a variety of disabling side effects, including falls, memory loss, dementia, and Alzheimer’s.

But this is the first time that these drugs have been examined related to suffering a stroke.

The Aberdeen researchers carefully analyzed data on 22,000 people (ranging in age from 39 to 79) who were prescribed drugs in this class. This wasn’t some short-term study, either, but a good, long look that spanned about two decades.

And they found a shocking rise in the stroke incidence – up to 59 percent higher – for those taking drugs considered to have a “high level” of anticholinergic (AC) activity.

But there’s more.

Those stroke victims also had a nearly 90 percent increased risk of dying as a result. And that makes this even more tragic, as experts say that the majority of strokes don’t have to be fatal if you receive fast medical care.

Now, while some drugs are considered to have higher “AC activity” than others, the fact that so many different kinds of meds fall into this category makes it as easy as can be for doses to add up.

For example, one “high-AC” drug that may surprise you is the popular allergy med Benadryl.

Diphenhydramine, the same active (AC) ingredient that’s in Benadryl, is also found in Advil, Aleve, Bayer, Tylenol, and Excedrin “PM” versions, as well as Sominex and Unisom (sleep aids). These drugs are all available over the counter!

Other common drugs with known high-AC activity include:

  • Chlor-Trimeton, for allergies,
  • Ditropan and Oxytrol, for “overactive bladder,” and
  • Dramamine, for nausea and motion sickness.

And while these types of meds pose a danger to people of every age, seniors are especially vulnerable.

You should check any drugs you may be taking, even if only occasionally and in OTC form, to see if they’re in this risky class. You can find that information online or by asking your pharmacist.

Many of the meds on this long list can easily be replaced with safer solutions. For example, butterbur and goldenseal can work wonders for allergies. And if you have trouble getting to sleep at night, why not try some melatonin? For nausea, ginger tea is an excellent remedy.

As for prescription drugs in this category, you should also have a good heart-to-heart talk with your doctor about what alternatives are available… or if you can ditch them entirely.

The stakes are simply too high to ignore the dangers of these meds any longer.

“Commonly prescribed medication linked to stroke” University of Aberdeen, February 14, 2018,