Taking medicine is often integral to life, but the cardinal rule is to stay safe when putting something in the body. People in their forties and fifties often notice the number of bottles in the medicine cabinet increasing. There are individual reasons for this, some people finding it harder to metabolize food, ward off exposure to environmental chemicals, or deal with life’s stresses. Genetics definitely plays a part , some aging bodies handling these assaults better than others. But everyone relies on a liver to metabolize medications and kidneys to clear toxins. A history of alcohol and drug use, smoking, years of painkiller ingestion can have a negative effect on these organs. Then a new drug is introduced and side effects occur.
These can be gastrointestinal, muscular, or neurological—dizziness, blurred vision,drowsiness. The most extreme event is a cascade of symptoms leading to anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic response to a drug, substance or insect bite. Awareness of the signs and symptoms saves lives: skin flushing/hives progressing to increased pulse, increasing anxiety and the swelling of the tongue and throat making breathing difficult. It’s an emergency! Call 911.
Clearly, the purpose of taking medication for different diseases or conditions is to insure that we feel better. Though it’s the medical profession’s job to prevent the opposite from occurring, there are things you can do to avoid side effects and drug interactions.
1. Use the same pharmacy to fill your prescriptions. That’s the first line of defense, says Mary Ann Schupp, RPH. The reason is pharmacists and doctors utilize a computer program that contains a profile of all your medications. When filling a new one, the program will automatically flag the drug if potential problems exist with a medication you are already taking. An example would be beginning a muscle relaxant that can cause drowsiness when you are already taking a sleeping aid. Using different pharmacies negates the safeguard.
2. Talk to your pharmacist about a new medication. To insure greater protection for their clients, Schupp and pharmacists like her don’t just rely on the computer program. They also walk to the window and talk to their clients, explaining how and when to take a new drug and the possible side effects it can cause. They want clients to share questions and concerns before starting a new medication
3. Know if medication counseling is the law in your state. A conversation with your pharmacist or pharmacy intern is called medication counseling. It’s required by law in most states and is your second line of defense, says Schupp. She emphasizes that clients can confuse a new drug with one they are already taking and that medication counseling helps the client to focus in on the new drug and understand what it’s for and how it works.
4. Educate yourself when taking a new prescription. Listen to your pharmacist and make sure you are clear about: what the drug does; how and when to take it; if it clashes with alcohol, caffeine, foods, over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, smoking; how it might affect your sleep, ability to drive, other activities; and what to do if you miss a dose. If you are uncomfortable asking questions, bring someone along to speak for you.
5. Follow these safety measures, offered by Schupp to help clients prevent drug interactions and/or deal with side effects:
- Always complete a course of antibiotics. Failure to do so, even if feeling better, does not insure the infection has been adequately treated. It will reoccur making you sicker and subsequent drugs will have a harder time because the infection’s resistance to antibiotics will be stronger.
- If you are experiencing truly severe side effects, go to the ER where antidotes to negate the effects of the drug are available.
- If you are taking a new drug and experiencing worrisome side effects call your pharmacist who can help you filter out what side effect is common and what might require a visit to the ER. Pharmacists are easy to reach and can deliver expanded service, being available on Saturdays and Sundays.
- You can also call your doctor or speak to someone on call. Pharmacists and doctors can counsel you about whether to stop the medication right away. Even if you do, you will not have instant relief as it takes time for drugs to clear your body.
- When you substitute a generic for a brand-name medication and experience side effects, ask about fillers or inert ingredients like gluten, lactose, and coloring agents that could be causing an allergic reaction or side effect.
- Discovering the origin of side effects is most difficult when you are discharged from the hospital with a variety of new drugs. Working with your doctor and pharmacist is the only way to discover which drug might be causing the problem.
- You cannot just stop some drugs. Doing that might cause you more harm than dealing with the side effects. Discuss the situation with your physician. You might have to bear the side effects until an adjustment of some kind can be made.
- Give your doctor a list of every medication, vitamin and herbal that you are taking. Even some foods, like grapefruit juice, inhibit substances in your body that metabolize medications. This is true for statin drugs that are used to treat high cholesterol. You can do what some doctors call the “paper bag test” where you bring all your meds in a paper bag for each office visit. Or you can create a file in your computer of everything you take and print out a copy each time you have an appointment with a health professional.
Medications will provide you with health and a longer life, ONLY if you take them safely–if you are smart about their use. So practice medication safety. You can refer to other Boomer Highway posts below for information on dementia drugs, how to lower your BP without meds and the dangers of online pharmacies. Or use the search bar and type in MEDICATIONS. I wish you good health.
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