The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that nearly half of Americans take at least one prescription medication every month. And 22 percent of us take three or more. Nearly 11 percent take five or more.
If you’re one of these people, a little knowledge might save your life.
If you take prescription medicine, it’s important to know how the drug might interact with other prescription and over-the-counter drugs and vitamins you take, the foods you eat, and what you drink.
Remember that not all drugs get along when taken in combination. Medications often work in a delicate balance, and stopping one medication could affect the levels of other drugs in your system.
Of course, many other factors could also trigger an unhealthy drug interaction. The number of medicines you take and any medical conditions you have are prime examples. Other considerations include your age, your diet, and even your kidney and liver function.
A Prescription for Prevention
Every prescription medicine comes with information about its purpose, correct usage and potential side effects. A list of medications or foods to avoid is also included. If you misplace this information, the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Medication Guides list issues associated with specific drugs and drug classes. Consider printing the guides of the meds you take regularly and keeping them for reference. You can also sign up to get alerts when the guides are updated.
Perhaps the best way to prevent an unwanted drug interaction is to give your doctor a list of all the prescriptions, over-the-counter products, vitamins and herbal supplements you take. Your doctor will know if something on that list could interact with any new drug that might be prescribed for you. If you still have questions, your pharmacist is an excellent resource.
It pays to know as much as possible about the medications you take. Some well-known combinations that can be deadly are provided below. For a detailed list, check the FDA’s Avoiding Drug Interactions page.
Taking Drugs with Food and Drinks
Alcohol: Be especially mindful of your alcohol use when you’re taking medicine. Alcohol can increase or decrease the effect of many drugs. Sometimes, it will interact with a drug to make the user drowsy or increase blood pressure.
Grapefruit Juice: Normally a healthy drink, grapefruit juice can interact with drugs used to lower blood pressure because it spikes the level of the medicine in the body. It can also cause higher blood pressure when used with the anti-anxiety drug buspirone and the insomnia medication triazolam.
Chocolate: Consuming excessive amounts of chocolate when taking certain antidepressant medications known as monoamine oxidase (MOA) inhibitors can cause a sharp rise in blood pressure. The caffeine in chocolate can also increase the effect of stimulant drugs, such as Ritalin, and decrease the effect of sedatives, such as Ambien.
Taking Drugs with Dietary Supplements
Vitamin E: This vitamin can increase anti-clotting activity and the chances of bleeding when used with blood-thinning medication.
Ginseng: This herb can encourage bleeding when taken with aspirin or certain anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen. When combined with MAO inhibitors, it can cause headaches, make it difficult to sleep, and cause nervousness and hyperactivity.
Taking Drugs with Other Drugs
Cordarone (amiodarone): People who take the cholesterol-lowering drug Zocor with the heart drug Cordarone risk kidney failure or even death. Cordarone can also reduce or block the beneficial effects of the blood thinner Coumadin (warfarin).
Antihistamines: Combining over-the-counter antihistamines to reduce sneezing and itchy throat and eyes with sedatives, tranquilizers or depression medication can cause extreme drowsiness. Taking an antihistamine and a decongestant (like pseudoephedrine) and also taking high blood pressure medicine can cause spikes in blood pressure or speed up the heart rate.
Check it out.Before you take any medicine, consider visiting Medscape’s free Drug Interaction Checker. Enter the names of prescription or over-the-counter drugs or supplements to find out how they interact. Enter one name at a time, and the checker will warn you of potential combination problems.
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Sources: Avoiding Drug Interactions, Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 2015; Medication Guides, FDA, 2017; Drug Interactions: What You Should Know, FDA, 2013; Therapeutic Drug Use, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017