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Tips for Preventing Adverse Drug Reactions

Drug technology has advanced greatly, giving people the potential for healthier, more fulfilled lives. This is particularly true for seniors who tend to suffer disproportionally from some of the chronic diseases these drugs were designed to treat.

However, there can be too much of a good thing when it comes to medicine, according to Barry Malinowski, M.D., medical director for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Ohio. “With more drugs, there is more potential for drug interactions and adverse drug reactions, including everything from drowsiness, lost balance, and minor skin and stomach irritation, to even fatal consequences,” he said. “In a worst case scenario, one medication is prescribed to treat the side effects of another and problems compound.” The use of multiple medicines by the same person at the same time is called polypharmacy.

The following numbers highlight the potential problem:

Make a list of every medication you take with dosage. It’s important to include over-the-counter drugs, herbal supplements and even vitamins. These can cause interactions, too, yet there is no record of them in your medical history. Share this list with family members who may act on your behalf.

Communicate with your health care providers. When prescribed a new drug, make sure your doctor knows about your existing medications. Having a good relationship with your primary care physician (PCP) is critical. Your PCP reviews reports from specialists to ensure continuity. Some even participate in “medical homes” in which insurers pay them a little more to coordinate your care. You may also want to consider filling all your prescriptions at the same place, rather than moving them around, to ensure consistency.

Participate in a review of your medications. This can be as informal as taking a paper bag of your medications to your doctor or having a more formal review with a clinician. Health benefits companies offer pharmacy reviews to their Medicare Part D members who are most at risk of developing adverse reactions, such as those who meet specified criteria, including having multiple chronic illnesses and taking multiple medications. These reviews are generally led by a medical professional and are free to the member. Be sure to take advantage of them if you qualify.

Read and understand prescription drug labels and related materials. Over the years, the amount of paperwork people receive with their prescriptions has exploded. That’s actually a good thing. Read everything you’re given and make sure you understand it.
Take the medication that is prescribed at the prescribed dosage. One of the biggest triggers of adverse drug interactions is taking too much or too little of your prescription. There are a number of reasons for this, including everything from forgetting your medicine to being unable to afford it. Those who take multiple medications may want to invest in a medication reminder box. Putting each day’s pills in the box will ensure they take the right drugs at the right dosages. It may also help to take the medication at the same time every day.

Pay attention to side effects. Don’t dismiss changes in your health or behavior. These could be signs of an adverse reaction. Also listen to your friends and family members who may notice changes before you do.

Don’t take someone else’s prescription. Doses are prescribed based on age, weight and condition, among other factors. Only a health care professional can determine the proper drug and dosage. So don’t risk it.

“Your doctor has prescribed your medicine for a reason,” said Malinowski. “By working closely with your physician and your pharmacist, taking the correct dosage at the right time, and educating yourself about possible side effects, you should be able to get that benefit, while heading off any problems.”

This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider for advice about treatments that may affect your health.

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