Did you know that one out of every 250 ER visits are the result of drug interactions? Not only is medication usage increasing per patient, but studies also show that there’s an increasing number of patients who are being prescribed multiple medications at the same time. Combine that with patients who may not be forthcoming about other types of medications they are taking—and there you have a recipe for an ER visit.
What can cause a bad drug interaction?
1. Two drugs taken at the same time can cause an increased effect or decreased effect. This is called a pharmacodynamic interaction. For instance, just one or two doses of the antidepressant fluoxetine, which is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), combined with a Monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI), like phenelzine, can lead to a condition called central serotonin syndrome. This can cause mental changes, agitation, irregular heartbeat, and death. Additionally, one drug can affect the absorption, distribution, metabolism, or excretion of another drug. This is called pharmacokinetic interaction.
2. Some drugs may interact poorly with certain foods and beverages. You’ll sometimes see a warning on your pill bottle to avoid grapefruit juice when taking certain medications. That’s because grapefruit juice is known to decrease levels of enzymes in your liver that help break down medications like atorvastatin (Lipitor) for cholesterol. Grapefruit juice can also reduce your medication’s effect on infections and more serious health conditions like high blood pressure, heart problems, and even organ rejection in transplant patients.
3. Certain drugs can worsen an existing medical condition or disease. Keep in mind that certain drugs, even over-the-counter ones, can make matters worse for you. For example, over-the-counter medications that contain ephedrine can be detrimental for people with heart conditions.
How can you avoid potentially dangerous drug interactions?
Tell your doctor about all prescription and over-the-counter drugs you are taking. Ask him specifically about potential drug interactions. Do not hide any information about what you are taking. Many dangerous drug interactions happen because patients aren’t honest about all the drugs they have in their system.
1. You can double check your doctor’s recommendations by asking the pharmacist when you pick up the medication.
2. Review warning labels and the Drug Facts Label whenever you buy over-the-counter medications or pick up a new prescription from the doctor. Drug formulas may change from time to time, so it’s important to always read the information even if you think you know. Although asking your doctor is your safest bet, you can go the extra mile by checking an online drug interaction list.
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