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 The email (and its accompanying list of cold medicines and weight loss aids) is alarming, but outdated.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to be the most accurate method for determining the PPA content of OTC products rather than providing an incomplete or out-of-date list of products that may have already been reformulated and no longer contain PPA.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]


Edit Your Comment

  1. WBrink says:

    Really? Think of the process here:

    1 – Someone read a chain email
    2 – Someone believed chain email
    3 – Someone was scared by chain email
    4 – Someone, in spite of their immobilizing fear, could not bother to research this themselves
    5 – Someone thought the best remedy would be to send this to Consumerist


  2. Razorgirl says:

    I love that the accompanying photo indicates that taking both Day-Quil ad Ny-Quil together, even in normal dosages may kill you , or at least make you a target for evil roommate pranks.

    I remember when just Ny-Quil would do that for you. Ah, for the good old days. Stupid reformulations.

    • Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

      @Razorgirl: NyQuil sucks since they took out most of the alcohol. And by “sucks” I mean “is still my drug of choice for sleeping when I have a crappy cold,” but it’s not NEARLY as good as when the sleep action was a result of the combination of benadryl and alcohol in the NyQuil.

      (In college we used to take benadryl with a whiskey chaser for a NyQuil substitute. Worked like a charm, but I bet my liver is still bitching about it. It seemed like a good idea a the time … like so many, many bad ideas in college.)

    • racermd says:

      @Razorgirl: You can still get the ‘old’ NyQuil formula (with pseudophedrine?) if you ask for the stuff they keep behind the counter.

      They’ve taken most of the potency out of the medicines because they can be broken down and made into all sorts of interesting self-administered meds (commonly meth). In most states, you need to show ID and sign for a certain amount of the ‘good stuff’. If you bought too much lately, they’ll know something is up and will probably not sell to you for a while.

      The statement remains, however – they do still make it the way they used to. You just have to ask.

  3. Anonymous says:

    i remember it nyquil knocking me out for about 16 hours straight when my dad gave me a half dose 8 years ago. i don’t know what the new formulation would do though. but yeah the medications do tend to affect women more strongly then men. especially if your closer in size to a child then what people would normally consider a full grown woman. makes me very weary of any medication at all.

  4. NoO&A_GitEmSteveDave says:

    And for those that don’t believe Consumerist, as they may be part of big pharma(j/k), here’s something from snopes.

  5. Beth Coccaro says:

    According to the doctor I saw in the ER in 2007, PPA is used to wake coma patients. When I accidentally took 30 mg of PPA believing it was sudafed (30 mg is the normal sudafed dose for one pill), my blood pressure quickly rose to 220/110 and the poison control center asked me to to get off the phone and go straight to the hospital.

    All this because meth heads ruined the purchase of sudafed for allergies. I was at my parents and did not realize it was PPA because the little red pills had been removed from their box and I made an inaccurate assumption that the industry shrinkrayed the dose down to 10 mg pills. I own my error, but it was way to easy to accidentally kill myself, and I think the pills should not look the same as sudafed.

    • ecwis says:

      @Beth Coccaro: You can still buy Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed). I still use that because PPA doesn’t seem to work for me (at least at the suggested dosage).

    • Fineous K. Douchenstein says:

      @Beth Coccaro: I still buy full-strength Sudafed (AISLE FIVE!) with pseudoephedrine. You just have to sign for it and buy it from the pharmacy counter. I don’t use it that often, so I only buy it a couple times a year.

  6. Blueskylaw says:

    In veterinary medicine, phenylpropanolamine is used to control urinary incontinence in dogs.

    Read the paper titled:
    Treatment of urethral sphincter mechanism incompetence in 11 bitches with a sustained-release formulation of phenylpropanolamine hydrochloride

  7. yesteraeon says:

    This news is OLD! PPA was pulled from the market (at least as far as OTC cold medication is concerned) a number of years ago. Personally I was pissed about that. It remains the only decongestant that worked worth a damn for me. Personally, I would gladly accept the *small* increased health risks to alleviate the unpleasantness of severe nasal congestion. But I guess the government knows better :(.

  8. Shadowman615 says:

    General rule: When one of your future ex-friends forwards you a chain email filled with Dateline style sensationalist claims, vague threats, or promises of money, it’s not true.

  9. InThrees says:

    1980s called, wants their scare back. (or is it even earlier than that? I remember seeing “WARNING: CONTAINS PHENYLPROPYLAMASALADINGDANG” on medicine packets as a boy in the 80s…)

  10. Arthur says:

    Dextroamphetamine precursor

  11. Brian Gatewood says:

    No need to worry!

    “phenylpropanolamine (and its unpleasant tendency to increase the risk of hemorrhagic stroke in women)”

    Says nothing about men! I say we bring it back, and slap a MEN ONLY label on it.

  12. Subsound says:

    There’s the great thing about the internet, people who have no idea what this shit is believe the hype and inform other people…and none actually researched anything about what the basis of the claim is and what is going on.

  13. h0mi says:

    What about the emails about the evils of formaldehyde in nutrasweet sweetened drinks.

  14. megafly2 says:

    I’m not a woman. I want my GOOD Alka-Selzer plus!!