Avoiding Mistakes When Mixing Meds

Americans are taking more prescription and other medications than ever before. Surveys show that most adults take at least one prescription or over-the-counter drug at least once a week.

The problem is, many people don't consider the risks of side effects, or mixing medications with other drugs, dietary supplements, or even food.

So what can people do to avoid adverse side effects from medications?

The first thing to remember, Senay points out, is that no drug is completely free of the risk of side effects, even if it's taken as directed. Make sure you read, understand and follow all the directions and information that you're given when you get prescription drugs or buy over-the-counter medications. Take note of the potential side effects and adverse reactions, and be on the lookout for them. Report any adverse reactions to your doctor.

As for mixing medications: Many drugs can be taken safely together, Senay continues, but make sure you speak to your doctor and pharmacist about potential interactions with other drugs if you're not clear about the effects of combining them. With over-the-counter medications, you need to watch out for unknowingly taking dangerous amounts of one medicine that's an ingredient in multiple brands. For instance, the pain reliever acetaminophen, common in many cold and flu medications, can be harmful in large quantities. The antihistamine in cold and flu medications can cause excessive drowsiness when combined with other medications.

Herbal supplements can also cause problems when mixed with other medications. Many people who take prescription medications every day are also taking at least one herbal or dietary supplement. Herbal supplements can enhance or detract from the potency of prescription medications. Many herbal supplements haven't been fully tested, so there can also be unexpected reactions when they're combined with other medications. If you're taking a drug and herbal supplement that work on the same organ system or for the same disease, you need to be extra cautious. For example, if you're taking an antidepressant and you're also taking one of the over-the-counter herbal remedies for depression, such as St. John's wort, tell your doctor beforehand so you can get the right guidance.

Certain drugs even come with warnings about mixing with foods. For instance grapefruit juice can be a no-no with a long list of prescription medications. Fortified foods are becoming an area of more interest when it comes to potential interactions. We need more research into just how much food affects the drugs that you're taking. Talk to your doctor and druggist about known interactions.