After getting a pacemaker, 85-year-old Eugene Tefft is really concerned about keeping his blood pressure in check. He watches his sodium, but now researchers say he and millions of other Americans may not realize how much salt is in some of the most popular fizzy medications for things like heartburn and indigestion.
"The beauty of the tablets are for people who can't swallow pills. They're a very nice way to get a medication in, but we now recognize that it's got a price: too much salt," said Dr. Lawrence O'Connor, a cardiologist at Glendale Memorial Hospital.
A new study in the British Medical Journal says these effervescent drugs are salty enough to increase the risk of hypertension and stroke. Dr. O'Connor agrees.
"The standard diet for heart patients or hypertensive patients is two grams a day. So if you're now taking eight tablets of that a day or four tablets of that a day, you've already exceeded the limit by several fold," said O'Connor.
Researchers studied over 61,000 heart attack and stroke patients and found they were more likely to have consumed these salt-containing drugs than those who didn't experience these events. O'Connor says it's something he'll be telling his patients about.
"I think if you're hypertensive, I would avoid Alka-Seltzer and look for a different aspirin delivery system," said O'Connor.
Critics say while increased salt may have led to more heart attacks in the study, researchers did not measure how much of these drugs patients were taking or how much salt they were eating.
Still, study authors would like to see the salt content on carbonated medicines labeled the same way as food. Tefft believes it's a move that could save lives.
"I'm in favor of it," said Tefft.
O'Connor says the rate of high-blood pressure was higher in people who took sodium bicarbonate drugs routinely. Other upset stomach medications, such as calcium carbonate tablets, only contain very small amounts of salt.