Pharmacy remedies and kidney disease

Some remedies are potentially harmful for people with kidney disease. Make sure you check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking a new over-the-counter medicine.

Here's a list of over-the-counter remedies that are safe to use if you have kidney disease, and those you should avoid.

This is just a guide. For more detailed information and advice, consult your pharmacist, renal specialist or GP.

Headache remedies

What's safe:

Paracetamol is safe and the best choice of painkiller to treat a headache. But avoid soluble paracetamol products as they're high in sodium.

What to avoid:

If your kidney function is less than 50%, avoid painkillers containing aspirin or ibuprofen (unless your doctor specifically prescribes them for you).

They can worsen the function of damaged kidneys. Ibuprofen should also be avoided if you're taking anti-rejection medicines after a kidney transplant

Low-dose aspirin of 75 to 150 milligrams (mg) a day can be used if it's prescribed for the prevention of vascular disease.

Cough and cold medicines

Many of the products available for coughs and colds contain a mixture of ingredients, so check the packaging carefully.

What's safe:

Any product that only contains paracetamol as the active ingredient.

What to avoid:

Some cough and cold remedies contain high doses of aspirin, which it's best to avoid.

Many cold remedies also contain decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine, which you should avoid if you have high blood pressure.

The best way to clear congestion is by steam inhalation with menthol or eucalyptus. For coughs, try a simple linctus or glycerine honey and lemon to soothe your throat.

Muscle and joint pain relievers

What's safe:

If you have muscle or joint pain, it's best to use skin creams and lotions such as Deep Heat, Ralgex and Tiger Balm, which you rub onto the painful area.

What to avoid:

Avoid tablets containing ibuprofen or diclofenac if your kidney function is below 50%.

Ibuleve (ibuprofen-containing) gel or spray is safer than ibuprofen tablets. But it isn't completely risk-free, as a small amount of the medicine penetrates your skin and goes into the bloodstream.

Indigestion remedies

What's safe:

For occasional treatment of indigestion, Gaviscon liquid or tablets are safe, as are Remegel and Rennie tablets, which contain calcium carbonate.

What to avoid:

Don't use Gaviscon Advance to treat indigestion as it contains potassium.

Avoid medicines that contain aluminium or magnesium, such as Aludrox or Maalox, unless they're prescribed by a renal doctor.

Heartburn remedies

What's safe

Ranitidine (Zantac), famotidine (Pepcid) and omeprazole (Losec) are safe to use for the short-term relief of heartburn.

What to avoid:

Avoid cimetidine (Tagamet) for heartburn because it can lead to a rise in creatinine levels in the blood, making it seem as if your kidney function has worsened.

Hay fever and anti-allergy medicines

What's safe:

Antihistamine tablets, nasal sprays and eye drops, including well-known brands such as Piriton (chlorpheniramine) and Clarityn (loratadine), are safe to take to relieve allergy symptoms.

Preparations containing sodium cromoglycate, such as Opticrom Eye Drops, are also safe. 

If you use Zirtek (cetirizine) and your kidney function is below 50%, you'll need to reduce the dose you take, only take it every other day, or avoid it altogether. Your doctor or pharmacist can advise you.

Read more about antihistamines.


What's safe:

Any vitamin preparation that doesn't contain vitamin A is safe to use.

What to avoid:

Avoid multivitamins containing vitamin A as it can build up in your body and be harmful. If your kidneys are damaged, they can have problems clearing it.

Effervescent vitamin tablets can contain up to 1 gram (g) of salt per tablet. Switch to a non-effervescent tablet if you've been advised to watch or reduce your salt intake.

Constipation remedies

What's safe:

Senna tablets or liquid are safe to use if you have kidney disease and you're constipated.

Speak to your GP if you continue to have constipation after taking senna and making some simple lifestyle changes.

What to avoid:

Fybogel only works if you drink a lot, so it's not suitable for people with kidney disease.

Diarrhoea remedies

What's safe:

You can use liquid loperamide (Imodium) to treat diarrhoea.

See your doctor or pharmacist for advice if you have diarrhoea and vomiting and kidney problems.

Complementary remedies

Avoid herbal medicines if you have kidney disease as they can raise blood pressure.

Some, such as St John's Wort (for low mood), can interact with medicines prescribed for kidney disease.

Others, such as echinacea (used as a cold and flu remedy), can directly affect kidney function, so you should get advice from your doctor or pharmacist before using them.

Another problem is that different brands (and even different batches of the same brand) of herbal remedy can vary widely in the amount of active ingredient they contain. This makes it difficult to predict how strong a dose will be.

Read more about how your pharmacist can advise you about over-the-counter medicines and kidney disease

Article provided by NHS Choices

See original on NHS Choices

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