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Spotlight Extra: Dangers of Drug Interactions

It is more important than ever to take control of your health. That's because people who understand their medical conditions do better overall. Top among your personal health goals should be to gain a thorough understanding of your medications. Beyond knowing the proper dosing and purpose of your medications, ask your healthcare provider about potential interactions.

There are three basic kinds of drug interactions: drug-drug interactions, drug-food/drink interactions and drug-disease interactions. Any of these combinations may lead to harmful side effects or may increase or decrease the effects of your medication.

Drug-drug interactions

For example, antidepressants, sleeping pills or tranquilizers can interact with each other to interfere with your thought process, impair your ability to drive or operate machinery and even lead to death. Taking aspirin while you are on certain blood thinners can lead to an excessive risk of bleeding. The combination of certain over-the-counter and prescription medication can also lead to serious side effects.

Drug-food/drink interactions

Certain foods and beverages can also impact how a drug works. For example, certain medications should not be taken with grapefruit juice and people on certain types of blood thinners need to avoid or track the amount of foods containing vitamin K food that they eat. The combination of alcohol with sedatives, cold, allergy and certain other types of medication can be particularly harmful. 

Drug-disease interactions

Some medications are off-limits for people with certain diagnoses. People with stomach ulcers, for example, may need to avoid some anti-inflammatory pain medications, and someone with asthma should not take certain blood pressure medications that can worsen asthma control.

Lower your risk for interactions

So what can you do reduce your risk of a potentially harmful drug, drug food/beverage or drug/medical condition interaction?

  • Carry a current list of all medicines you or your child take in your wallet or purse.
  • Know why you take your medication and the proper dosage.
  • Read the drug label.
  • Give an updated copy of the list to each doctor you visit, pointing out changes and being sure to add over-the-counter drugs, herbal remedies, vitamins and dietary supplements.
  • Ask your doctors and pharmacist to check the list for possible interactions.
  • Consult with your doctor or pharmacist before adding a new over-the-counter medication.
  • Ask if there are any foods or beverages you should avoid and whether you should take the medication on a full or empty stomach.
  • Find out if any of your medications needs to be taken at a certain time of the day.
  • Never take medications prescribed for someone else.
  • Be aware that the combination of many drugs with alcohol can be dangerous.

To add another layer of safety, fill your prescriptions at only one drugstore or through a chain where the pharmacist is able to view your records online. Tell your pharmacy what prescriptions you fill through mail order or other pharmacies.

Taking these precautions can help keep you safer from dangerous drug interactions.

Sources: National Institutes of Health

For more about Rx and over-the-counter drugs, visit Be Smart. Be Well. Drug Safety.

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