Help! This Email Says Various Cold Medicines Will Kill Me!

A friend of ours recently got an email forward about the cold medicine ingredient phenylpropanolamine (and its unpleasant tendency to increase the risk of hemorrhagic stroke in women), so she sent it to us for a little “mythbusting.” The email (and its accompanying list of cold medicines and weight loss aids) is alarming, but outdated.

A Yale University School of Medicine study found that phenylpropanolamine did increase the risk of stroke in women, prompting the FDA to ask drug makers to reformulate their products.

These emails have been circulating for years now (the FDA’s Public Health Advisory was issued in November of 2000) and, as a result, most products that formerly contained the ingredient have been reformulated.

The FDA says:

We have received numerous requests for a list of products containing PPA. Since companies continue to reformulate their products, FDA is not maintaining a comprehensive, updated list of products that still contain PPA. FDA is aware of emails circulating widely that list many products allegedly containing PPA. These emails, however, generally contain dated and inaccurate information and should be ignored.

The FDA recommends that consumers read the labels of OTC drug products to determine if the product contains PPA. The Agency believes this to be the most accurate method for determining the PPA content of OTC products rather than providing an incomplete or out-of-date list of products that may have already been reformulated and no longer contain PPA.

If you’re still concerned, you should check the labels of your older medicines — for PPA and for the expiration date.

Phenylpropanolamine (PPA) Information Page [FDA]