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OTC Medicines: What People with Kidney Disease Should Know

When you have kidney disease, some commonly used medicines may negatively affect your health. Others could actually help, such as preventing a heart attack. That’s why it’s important to consult your doctor and know what to look for on medicine labels before you head to the drugstore.

We’ve put together a list of medicines/ingredients and potential side effects to consider when discussing over-the-counter (OTC) options with your doctor. Always check with your doctor before taking any medication, vitamin or supplement to determine what is appropriate for your specific situation. Recommendations can vary for each individual depending on the stage of kidney disease.

Medicine/Ingredient Ailment Potential Side Effects
1. Decongestants
  •  Cold/Flu


  • Can raise heart rate and blood pressure and affect blood-sugar levels


2. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS)
  •  Pain


  • Can decrease blood flow to the kidneys and raise blood pressure


3. Aspirin
  •  Pain


  • Can increase the risk of bleeding and potentially reduce kidney function


4. Aluminum hydroxide or magnesium hydroxide
  •  Indigestion


  • Can build up in kidneys to toxic levels


5. Oral rehydration powder/salts
  •  Diarrhea


  • Contain sodium and potassium


6. Laxatives
  •  Constipation


  • Can upset electrolyte balance


7. Herbal medicines, vitamins and supplements


  • Can interact with medications and may contain potassium, phosphorus or other minerals

Also, talk to your doctor about the possibility of addressing health issues with proper diet, exercise and rest, rather than medication. Taking good care of yourself naturally can go a long way in both avoiding ailments and resolving them.

Finally, make sure you take your medications exactly as directed, and inform your doctor of all the medicines you take: OTC drugs, prescriptions, herbal medicines, vitamins and supplements. Keep a list and take it with you to your medical appointments—kidney related and not. You can also make others aware of your condition by wearing a medical alert bracelet (available online and at most drugstores).

Many medicines have become available over the counter in recent years, making it easier to manage medications but also easier to consume ingredients that could be harmful if you have CKD. Always check with your doctor before you take an OTC medicine—no matter how harmless it may seem.


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