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Dealing With Medicine Side Effects and Interactions

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Using Medicines Safely

Here are some things you can do to be sure that you're taking medicines safely.

Make a list of all the medicines you take, and update it every time you get a new medicine. Use this form(What is a PDF document?) to track your medicines. If you stop taking a medicine, take it off your list. Keep a copy in your purse or wallet, and take it with you each time you see your doctor or see a new doctor. Have each doctor keep in your file a copy of your list of medicines.

Include herbal and dietary supplements, vitamins, and over-the-counter medicines on your list, because they can cause problems when you take them with some medicines. For example, ginkgo biloba, ginseng, and large amounts of garlic may make bleeding more likely. That means they could be dangerous when taken with other medicines that may cause bleeding, like the blood thinner warfarin (such as Coumadin) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as ibuprofen.

Talk with your pharmacist or doctor before you take a new prescription, over-the-counter medicine, or supplement. It may be helpful to schedule a visit or call your pharmacist ahead of time to let him or her know that you want to talk about the medicines you take. Talk about:

  • All the medicines, over-the-counter medicines, herbs, and supplements you take.
  • Possible interactions with any other medicine you take.
  • What to do if you think you are having an adverse reaction. Ask about who you should call and what you will need to do right away.
  • Any health problems that you have.

Take your medicines as your doctor or the instructions slideshow.gif say. This will make sure you get the most benefit, and it will help you avoid interactions and side effects. Be sure you know how much to take, when to take it, and whether you can take the medicine with food, drink, or alcohol. Also be sure you know what to do if you miss a dose. This applies to prescription or over-the-counter medicines, supplements, and herbs. For more information, see Taking Medicines as Prescribed.

Use a drug interaction checker. Ask your doctor or pharmacist to run your medicine list through a drug interaction checker. This checks for medicines that can have bad interactions. If you find a problem, talk to your doctor.

Use one drugstore or pharmacy, if possible. The pharmacist will know which medicines you take and will watch for interactions. If you fill prescriptions at more than one pharmacy, make sure that each of them has the same information about your medicines.

Know which medicines to avoid. Because of possible bad reactions, some people may need to avoid some medicines. For example, if you have heart failure and are taking digoxin, you may have problems with clarithromycin—an antibiotic used for pneumonia—because it increases the effect of digoxin. If you have heart failure or kidney problems or take certain blood pressure medicines, you may have problems with the diabetes medicine metformin.

Even something that seems as harmless as grapefruit juice can change how your body uses medicines. Cholesterol-lowering medicines (statins) and high blood pressure medicines are two examples of medicines that grapefruit juice affects. If you take these medicines, your doctor may suggest that you don't drink grapefruit juice. For more information, see the topic Grapefruit Juice and Medicines.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 09, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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