“Rx for Avoiding Drug Interactions,” Ensign, Oct. 1991, 70
Today, the average “healthy” senior citizen takes eleven different prescription drugs and numerous other over-the-counter drugs each year. These supposedly safe drugs include such powerful substances as cardiovascular and pulmonary medications, blood thinners, blood-pressure drugs, antibiotics, and diabetes medications.
These drugs may not complement each other, nor do they necessarily agree with every person’s physiology and metabolism. Because of this, on any given day, one hospital bed in eight is occupied by a victim of a drug reaction or interaction. These reactions result in a staggering death toll as well as a tremendous price tag. And most of them could have been avoided if individuals had sought the advice of a trusted physician before taking medications.
Here are some ways you can lessen your chances of experiencing a dangerous drug reaction or interaction.
Before you begin a drug regimen, ask your doctor if there are any alternative (non-drug) treatments that might help your condition. Begin long-term drug treatment only after you have explored all other alternatives.
Make sure you understand your doctor’s instructions about new prescriptions before you leave his office. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask what the medication is supposed to do and what possible side effects you might experience; be sure you understand the dosage instructions.
Coordinate all medications through one physician. If this isn’t possible, make sure each doctor is aware of all the other doctors you are seeing and all the other medications you are taking. When you start a new medication, ask your doctor if there is any other medication you should eliminate.
Select a reputable pharmacy that keeps a cumulative record of all the medications you are taking and has a complete record of any reactions you may have had in the past. When choosing, ask pharmacists if they have computer programs to identify possible drug reactions. You may pay slightly more for this service, but it could save your life.
Ask the pharmacist for any written information available on new prescriptions. If you have questions, ask the pharmacist until you understand instructions completely.
Follow your doctor’s and pharmacist’s instructions completely. It does make a difference how and when you take medication. If you have any questions, contact your doctor or pharmacist immediately.
As you take medication, watch carefully for any side effects. Report anything unusual—a rash, dizziness or light-headedness, numbness or tingling—to your doctor immediately. Do not suddenly stop taking medication without contacting your doctor. If you are away from home traveling when you notice a side effect, contact the emergency room at the nearest hospital as soon as possible.
If you take several medications, it’s a good idea to have a “brown bag” session with your doctor every year. Put all your prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, herbs, and vitamins in a bag and take them to his or her office. Discuss all the medications to see if you should eliminate any.
Drugs are lifesaving, but they can also be dangerous. Avoiding medication can be equally dangerous. Instead, work closely with your doctor and follow his or her instructions explicitly.—D. Richard Hurley, Department of Health Sciences, Brigham Young University