Adverse drug interactions affect thousands of people each year. Drug interactions – when a medication interacts with something else, such as food, another medication or a medical condition – can cause severe side effects or even death. The three main drug interactions are:
Drug-Drug: This occurs when you take two medications that don't interact well with each other. For example, heart medication or anti-psychotic drugs may not be taken with sedatives. Taking drugs together without doctor approval can cause major side effects.
Drug-Food-Beverage: Most common in this category is taking drugs with alcohol. Alcohol should be strictly avoided when taking most drugs, as it can make you drowsy or increase the severity of side effects.
Drug-Medical Condition: You shouldn't take some drugs if you have a certain medical condition, such as high blood pressure or heart problems.
Drug interactions can affect each person differently and have different outcomes. Your drug may not work as effectively. Conversely, a drug interaction may make a drug more active, or cause you to experience unwanted or adverse side effects. The effects depend on the individual. Depending on your body's chemistry and the extent of the drug interaction, you may experience no change, or it could affect you dramatically.
Over-the-counter drugs have labels that contain information regarding the drug's ingredients, uses, directions, warnings and possible drug interactions. It is important that you read this information thoroughly to avoid a potentially severe drug interaction. If you are unsure, ask a pharmacist. Pharmacists are specially trained to know which drugs do and do not react well with others.
Your doctor should be aware of any drugs – prescription and over-the-counter – that you are taking, including any dietary supplements or vitamins. You should also inform your doctor of any allergies or medical conditions you have. This will help your doctor prescribe a drug that works best for your body and minimize any drug interactions.
There are several ways to avoid the risk of a future drug interaction. If you have had one in the past, let your doctor know so they can determine what went wrong and how it could have been prevented. Also, be honest with your doctor about your medical history and drug use. Although it may be embarrassing or uncomfortable to talk about, it will provide your doctor with essential information they need to prescribe the correct drug for your condition. Take medications responsibly. Follow all directions given to you by your doctor or pharmacist. Failure to follow instructions can have negative consequences on your health. Ask questions if you are unsure. You have a right to know about any risks involved with taking a certain medication.