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Experts say there are alternative medications people can take to keep their blood pressure in check. Getty Images
  • Researchers say there’s evidence people have stopped taking their blood pressure medications due to recalls in the past year.
  • Experts say people may not be aware there are alternative medications.
  • Experts say it’s unwise for people to stop taking their medications, as the health ramifications of high blood pressure are serious.

Many common blood pressure medications have been subject to waves of recalls in the past year due to contamination by a variety of possible cancer-causing agents.

Now there’s some evidence that some people aren’t replacing these medications and are ending up in the emergency room as a result, a new Canadian study finds.

Emergency room visits in Ontario for high blood pressure complaints increased 55 percent in the month following the recall of six generic versions of the blood pressure medication valsartan, according to the report.

While it’s not possible to draw a direct causal link between recalls and increased emergency room visits, the researchers found that not everyone was using replacement medication.

“It is uncertain whether the increased… visits simply reflect excess healthcare utilization by patients seeking replacement prescriptions for their recalled valsartan, or encounters for loss of hypertension control,” the study authors wrote. “However, these findings highlight the potential burden and risks associated with recalls of chronic oral medications used by large populations.”

Since that initial recall of valsartan, other medications in this class of drugs, including losartan (Cozaar), olmesartan (Benicar), and irbesartan (Avapro) have also been recalled for similar contamination issues.

These recalls may have an effect on people’s use of these vital medications, even though pharmacies and doctors are ready to provide replacement drugs.

“We found that prescriptions dispensed for recalled valsartan sharply decreased immediately after the recall date,” the researchers wrote. “However, there was incomplete replacement of valsartan with alternative products, with one in 10 patients not receiving an alternative.”

How widespread is this problem?

Some experts think it’s not that serious.

“This article describes an insignificant event and uses statistical terms to make it sound impressive,” Dr. James E. Keany, chief of staff at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, California, told Healthline.

“In this study, the pre-recall rate of emergency department (ED) visits for blood pressure was 0.11 percent. This is a very uncommon reason to come to the ED. After the recall, it increased to 0.17 percent, which remains a very uncommon reason to come to the ED.”

“Our two EDs see a combined 200 patients a day,” Keany explained. “That means at the pre-recall rate we would see one person every 5 days for blood pressure. After the recall that would translate to one person every 3 days seen for high blood pressure.”

That addresses this study, but even if the effects are small, that doesn’t mean they’re insignificant.

“The past 2 months have brought a considerable public backlash against both valsartan and Zantac, including Zantac’s removal from store shelves and consumer lawsuits alleging the medication causes cancer,” Aileen Mack, staff writer for, a consumer advocacy group, told Healthline.

“Valsartan could also be looking at a number of legal issues following the recall and increase in hypertension-related emergency department visits with dozens of personal injury claims already filed,” she said.

Even though replacement medications are available and doctors are trying to spread the word, people fall through the cracks for a variety of reasons, according to Dr. Rebecca Berens, a family physician in Houston, Texas.

“From my personal clinical experience, a lot of patients were not aware that they could go to the pharmacy and receive a substitution, so they just stopped taking it and never contacted the pharmacy or their doctor,” Berens told Healthline.

“Many patients had heard about the recalls and incorrectly believed that the medication itself was causing cancer, not understanding that this was a contaminant that is not usually found in the medication.

“Some even expressed anger that their doctor had prescribed them something that causes cancer. So, I think there was definitely a large element of distrust in the medical system that contributed to this,” Berens said.

Whatever the reason, if you take blood pressure medication, don’t stop. It puts yourself at unnecessary risk, according to Ramzi Yacoub, PharmD, chief pharmacy officer at SingleCare.

“If patients can’t get ahold of their doctor, they should consult their pharmacist, who can help them navigate through the process of getting an alternative medication approved by their physician,” Yacoub told Healthline.