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Be Careful When Mixing Prescription and Nonprescription Medications

By: | Tags: | Comments: 0 | July 20th, 2016

Each year, 3.5 million people are hospitalized due to adverse drug reactions. Most of these admissions are seniors, and many of the adverse reactions are with prescription medications and over-the-counter (OTC) medications.

If you’re a senior taking multiple medications, or a person with a chronic healthcare condition taking multiple medications, it is important to know how they interact with OTC products. Some of the most commonly used OTC products can cause serious health problems.

Aren’t OTC Drugs Safe?

Just because a drug is available without a prescription doesn’t mean it is completely safe. OTC medications have been cleared by the FDA as safe when used as directed. One of the most common ways OTC drugs can be misused is by combining them with other OTC and prescription medications, causing unnecessary illness.

This can be especially risky for seniors and for people with chronic healthcare conditions. The average American takes between 2 to 7 prescription drugs daily. On average, individuals 65 to 69 years old take nearly 14 prescriptions per year, and people 80 to 84 years of age take an average of 18 prescriptions per year (source: ASCP).

Read the Label

It is important for people taking multiple medications to read the labels of OTC medications. Yes, the print is very small. If you can’t read it, talk to the pharmacist. One way to help prevent negative drug interactions is to use a single pharmacy for all of your medications. A pharmacist can look up your prescriptions and provide you with better guidance.

Be Prepared

It is also important to understand how OTC medications might interfere with procedures or surgery. For example, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), the blanket name for such OTC medications as aspirin (Bayer, Bufferin, St. Joseph), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and naproxen sodium (Aleve), should not be taken before surgery because they increase your risk of bleeding. NSAIDs inhibit a specific pathway that prevents platelets from aggregating and clotting. During surgery, blood is exposed to various surroundings and susceptible to clotting. Many people have had to cancel surgery because during check-in, they were found to have taken an NSAID.

Timing is Everything

Another concern is whether a medication should be taken with food or on an empty stomach. Some medications are more likely to cause illness when taken on an empty stomach, while others are not absorbed as well when taken with food.

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is a different category of OTC pain relievers and can also cause complications. Accidental acetaminophen overdoses are very possible when taking other medications that contain acetaminophen. These include many cold and flu medications, OTC sleep aids, and prescription painkillers such as Percocet, Vicodin, and their generic equivalents.

Use the Right Tool for the Job

It is common for people to use OTC antihistamines as sleep aids. They contain diphenhydramine hydrochloride, which is also sold as a sleep aid. Diphenhydramine hydrochloride stays in the body for a prolonged period of time. If you have sleep problems, talk to your doctor. Diphenhydramine hydrochloride may be safe but, according to Drugs.com, it has significant interactions with 765 other medications.

OTC cold medication can increase blood pressure levels or interfere with how well blood pressure medications work, which is a serious concern for people with hypertension. It is extremely important to read the labels of these medications and/or to talk with the pharmacist.

Some of the most common OTC medications in the world can have serious negative health effects when taken incorrectly–this includes ignoring label instructions and warnings and mixing them with other OTC and prescription medications. Seniors and people with chronic healthcare conditions typically take more prescription medications and have weakening immune systems, so their risk is even greater.  

Check out our Patient Mangement Center to learn more about what MedicoRx® could do for you.

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