This month the FDA announced the voluntary recall of medications with active ingredient valsartan. Physicians use drugs containing valsartan to treat high blood pressure and prevent heart failure, but recently experts discovered a potentially harmful impurity in some of those drugs. People in East Texas are now asking important questions about their medication and their health.

What's The Impurity in Valsartan?

The recall is due to the presence of N-nitrosodimethylamine, also known as NDMA. Based on lab tests, NDMA is classified as a substance that could cause cancer in humans. In animal studies, it causes tumors in the kidneys, liver and respiratory system. In humans, it can cause liver damage and cancer. Its presence surprised the FDA, who issued a statement that the impurity was "unexpected."

The voluntary recall includes valsartan-containing drugs from Major Pharmaceuticals, Solco Healthcare and Teva Pharmaceuticals. The recall doesn't just impact the United States. Tainted valsartan also went to Germany, Ireland, Italy, France and 18 other countries.

Who is Affected by the Valsartan Recall?

Not all drugs that contain valsartan contain NDMA. The three companies participating in the voluntary recall get their valsartan from one Chinese manufacturing company, Zhejiang Huahai Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. Experts aren't yet sure how the impurity got into the drug in the first place, but since the recall, those companies have stopped getting their valsartan from that manufacturer.

While the amount in individual doses doesn't create a significantly increased risk of developing cancer, patients should see if their medication is affected. The FDA website lists recalls by brand name and product description.

What Should East Texans Do if They Take Valsartan?

East Texans are understandably worried. Should they continue taking a medication that controls blood pressure and prevents a heart attack if it potentially causes cancer? The American Heart Association says it's best to talk to your doctor before making any changes.

If a valsartan-containing medication is working for you, your healthcare professional can help you find a similar medication if yours needs to be replaced. Physicians might switch some patients to a different generic or a similar medication in the same drug class. Valsartan-containing drugs are angiotensin receptor blockers, and there are several other readily available drugs that fall into that category.

Doctors caution patients shouldn't discontinue taking medication their doctor prescribed without first seeking medical advice from a qualified professional. Jumping to conclusions or going without blood pressure medication could have serious consequences, so it's always better to talk to your doctor first.