Wayne Adult Community Center

Feature article from the May, 2005 Newsletter

Avoiding Harm From Your Medications

Pharmaceutical drugs have saved and prolonged many of our lives, as well as improving their quality.  But those drugs are a two-edged sword, since their side effects can be severe, and they can also damage our internal organs, especially after long-term use.

 There is an additional danger in pharmaceuticals (as well as in therapeutic herbs and even in some vitamin supplements):  Many of us who are old enough not to mind telling our true age, take several medications on a regular basis.  They can interact:  Two medications might conflict, or one might amplify another one, raising its effect to a dangerous level.  They might also interact with some foods, with some vitamin supplements, and with some herbal supplements.  Furthermore, some vitamins and herbs, such as Vitamin E and Gingko Biloba, duplicate the effects of some pharmaceuticals and would thus increase the effective dosage.

 If you have several doctors you may have been prescribed two medications that contain some similar or even identical components such as aspirin, blood-thinning components, etc.).

 All of the above situations can have serious and even life-threatening consequences.

 Unfortunately, many rushed doctors are not sufficiently thorough in checking for possible interactions among the medications they prescribe, and they may not even know about other things you’re taking that can cause trouble.  Some of the larger pharmacy chains maintain lists of all medications purchased by each of their customers, and a database of potential interactions.  This increases the chances that an interaction among your medications will be caught.  (However, that is not certain.)

  To guard against those events as far as possible, you should take the following measures:

¨           Advise every one of your physicians and other health care providers of everything you’re taking, including all vitamins, minerals, herbs and other supplements.  Include a list of medications you’ve taken in the past, particularly those that caused you trouble or were ineffective.

¨           Keep a full written medical history, so that you don’t miss anything important when filling out the history form at a new health care provider.

¨           Report any side effects of newly-prescribed medicationspromptly to your health care provider .  If the effects are severe, an alternate medication might provide the same benefit with less harm.

¨          If you don’t buy all your medications at the same pharmacy, tell each one of everything you buy elsewhere.  Don’t hesitate to reveal that you don’t buy everything from them:  You’re under no obligation to make anyone them your sole source.

¨           READ the package insert for each medication.  Pay particular attention to (1) side effects, (2) possible interactions with other medicines, and (3) any foods or other things that should be avoided.

¨           Make sure you know what each drug is for, and that you understand everything the doctor tells you about it.  If there’s something you don’t understand, ask until you receive an explanation that is sufficiently clear to you.  Don’t allow yourself to feel rushed; the doctor’s time is valuable, but so is your life and well being.

¨           The abbreviated insert you get from some pharmacies may omit side effects that have been observed in only a small fraction of test subjects.  However, you could be part of such a fraction, so read ALL the side effects.

¨           Review your list of medications on a regular basis.  Some medications are necessary only temporarily.  Ask your doctor whether some of the drugs could be eliminated or their dosage levels reduced or.


 Based in part on an article in The Record newspaper, February 22, 2005


W. A. Shapiro