What to Know About Drug Interactions
Becki Conway's first symptoms seemed as if they might be the flu. According to the Chicago Tribune she had a dry cough, her throat was sore, and her sinuses were flaring up. Then, without warning, she developed chest pains, itchy eyes and a painful rash that migrated to her face and throat.
As soon as she checked into the hospital, the rash was spreading across her arms and torso. The it migrated to the lining of her lungs.
Ms. Conway’s symptoms only ended when doctors realized that Ms. Conway had taken a potentially dangerous combination of medicine that triggered her the immune system to attack her body's own cells.
Each year, new drugs are developed and tested to treat everything from high blood pressure to kidney disease. Due to these advances, quality of life has improved and diseases that were highly dangerous in the past are now manageable. As a result, widespread use of prescription medications is commonplace. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 48.4% of Americans used at least one prescription medication in the past 30 days; 24% of regularly use three or more prescription drugs.
While the availability of drugs has helped effectively treat, cure, or eliminate a wide number of health conditions, such widespread use also increases the chance of drug interactions. To help you avoid potentially dangerous drug interactions, we will address the possible risks when taking multiple drugs, dietary supplements, and other substances.
What Are Drug Interactions?
Drug interactions occur when combinations of drugs with other drugs, dietary supplements, certain foods, or other substances changes the medication’s effect on your body. Drugs can interact in a number of ways, usually by one drug or substance amplifying or reducing the effect of another.
If a drug's effect is amplified by another substance, this can cause a number of side effects, some of which are life threatening. In turn, when an interaction reduces a drug's effect, this can prevent it from treating the condition it’s prescribed for.
Drugs can interact with a number of substances besides other drugs, including interactions with herbal or dietary supplements, alcohol, and even certain foods.
Types of Drug Interactions
There are three main types of drug interactions:
- Drug-drug interactions
- Drug-food/beverage interactions
- Drug-supplement interactions
Drug-drug interactions can occur when two or more prescription drugs react with each other. The more medications that you take, the higher the chances are of an interaction occurring. This is why it’s important to talk with your doctor and pharmacist about all drugs, both prescription and over the counter, and any supplements, such as vitamins, that you currently take.
As an example, warfarin, a blood thinning medication, interacts with a number of drugs, including acetaminophen and ibuprofen. Other medications can increase how your body metabolizes warfarin, in turn making it less effective and increasing your risk of blood clots.
Drug-food/beverage interactions can occur when a medication has an interaction to something that you eat or drink. Both caffeine and alcohol are common substances that can interact with medications. Caffeine can have a synergistic reaction with bronchodilators, causing an increase in side effects like nervousness and rapid heartbeat.
Certain foods can also react with your medications. For example, leafy green vegetables like broccoli, spinach, and kale that are high in vitamin K can decrease the efficiency of blood thinners.
Drug-supplement interactions occur when your medication interacts with a dietary supplement, including over-the-counter vitamins, minerals, and herbal products. These supplements are commonly used and can be purchased at most grocery stores, pharmacies, and health food stores.
Some of these supplements can change how your body metabolizes or absorbs medications. This can affect the drug's potency in your body. Unfortunately, the amount of research conducted on drug-supplement interactions has so far been inadequate. Most information on this type of interaction comes from limited animal studies. Nonetheless, it’s important to inform your physician of the supplements that you take.
How to Avoid Drug Interactions
There are a number of ways you can help avoid drug interactions:
Communicate with your doctor
Talk with your doctor about all of the medications you are taking, newly prescribed or existing. Be sure to include any over-the-counter drugs that you take. Your doctor will want to have a conversation about any potential interactions. Additionally, report any side effects that you experience when taking a new medication to your doctor. This could be a sign of an interaction, and you may need to try a different prescription.
Keep your prescriptions at one pharmacy
While pharmacies maintain records of the prescriptions that they fill, most are unable to access or view records from other pharmacies. Whenever possible, you should fill your prescriptions with the same pharmacy. This will give them easier access to a record of your medications.
Ask your pharmacist questions
Your pharmacist is a great resource to help you better understand your medications and answer any questions to avoid potential interactions. Communicate with them regularly and be sure to ask about both side effects or potential interactions. This includes asking them about over-the-counter drugs and your prescriptions.
Carefully read all drug labels
Always read drug labels and patient drug information for both prescription and over-the-counter drugs. These will provide information on dosage, ingredients, warnings, and potential interactions.
Keep a medication list
Keep a complete list of all medications you are currently taking. Always bring this list with you to medical appointments. This can help your doctor or another medical professional check for potential interactions between medications. This is especially important if you see multiple doctors or have recently switched providers.
By following these practices, you can help reduce your risk of experiencing unsafe drug interactions. The one thing to always remember: when in doubt, ask your doctor or pharmacist!
Find Prescription Discounts
If you take multiple medications, rising health care costs and drug prices can make affording all of your prescriptions difficult. Fortunately, the America's Pharmacy prescription discount card can make finding the lowest prices for your drugs fast and easy.
Simply search online to find the best prices on your prescription, choose how you want to get your card or Rx coupon, then show it to the pharmacist to receive your discount.