How To Find Out If Your Medications Are Working Against Each Other
One of the things we like to review with our patients in the office is their current medications and supplements. This gives us important insight to their health history as well as key information regarding which of their doctors are managing/monitoring what issues. There have been many regulations and statutes implemented in recent years, aimed at improving communication between health professionals and improving the health and safety of patients. Despite these changes, there are still some gaps in the system where information is not fully shared between physicians. When your health is on the line, it is always best to make sure you are being a good self-advocate.
If you have ever taken any form of prescribed medication or regulated supplement, you have likely seen all the warnings and disclaimers that come along with them. One VERY important thing to understand is that certain drugs and supplements can change the action or effectiveness of others quite drastically. Even some foods are discouraged when taking certain medications (ie: grapefruit with atorvastatin/Lipitor). With healthcare providers only seeing you for one small moment in time, it can be difficult to have complete and open communication. Occasionally, a situation arises where a patient fails to completely provide the prescribing doctor with a comprehensive list of all the medications, supplements, over-the-counter remedies, and homeopathic interventions they are utilizing. A less frequent, but often more dangerous, situation can occur when two different physicians unknowingly prescribe medications that have the potential for a severe interaction.
Occasionally the recommendations for a drug will be changed due to new research or reports from doctors/patients. This information can sometimes take quite a long time to be disseminated to every physician and pharmacist. Another risk factor for serious drug interactions is using multiple pharmacies to fill different prescriptions. Pharmacists are a wonderful source of information and will often communicate to the doctor on your behalf if there are any potential red flags with a new prescription. Unfortunately, pharmacists are limited by the information they receive from the doctor and the patient. If you visit multiple pharmacies, be sure that each has a record of ALL your prescriptions in their system to help catch any potentially life threatening interactions.
If you are taking more than one supplement or medication, you should regularly check for possible interactions to proactively avoid any negative consequences to your health. The quickest and easiest way for you to do this is to sit down and make a COMPREHENSIVE list of anything and everything you put into your body that isn’t a food. Even herbs and dietary supplements should be included in this list as they can be just as powerful as some pharmaceutical products. Next, visit a reputable source such as, Medscape’s Drug Interaction Checker or WebMD's version and enter your list. This free service will alert you if there are any potentially dangerous interactions between items on your list. Keep your list up-to-date and have a copy available at ALL doctor appointments.
If you complete this process and find any concerning interactions, DO NOT stop taking any prescribed medications without a direct order from the physician who prescribed it. There are times when the possibility of a negative drug interaction is considered an acceptable risk when the consequences of not taking the medication are far more serious. Only the prescribing physician can explain their clinical rationale. Instead, call the doctor’s office to request an appointment and explain your concern. At your appointment, be sure to take your comprehensive list of supplements and medications with you to be confident they have the most up-to-date information. These appointments can also be a good time to ask your doctor if there are any lifestyle modifications that you can make which may eliminate the need for one or more of your current medications!
Please note that this information is intended for educational purposed only and does not constitute medical advice.