5 Easy Ways to Protect Yourself From Dangerous Drug Interactions

7 minute read

Prescription medications are designed to help cure what ails us, and they generally do a great job. However, there are a number of medications and drugs that do not mix well together. As a result, millions of patients end up in the hospital every year as a result of bad drug interactions. 

Thousands even die from this dangerous error. 

With such serious consequences of taking medications, it is important to be alert and aware of how to protect yourself. Here are some simple tips on avoiding dangerous drug interactions that you need to know.

Health Risks of Mixing Meds

There are a number of common dangerous interactions with medications that you are likely taking. Those taking blood pressure medications, for example, should not take cough medicines that have decongestants. 

Individuals taking drugs for depression, arthritis, ADHD, and chest pain are also commonly at risk for dangerous interactions if they are not carefully monitoring their prescriptions and dosages. 

Opioid medications are commonly prescribed for pain, and these require special care and attention. There are a number of potentially lethal interactions that opioids can have with other medications. 

It is essential that you never mix opioids with alcohol, as the results can be difficulty breathing and or potentially you can stop breathing completely. Opioids should also never be taken alongside a class of medications for depression/anxiety known as benzodiazepines.

It is important to discuss supplements with your pharmacist and doctor too. While they may seem natural, there are compounds in supplements that may adversely react to medications you are taking. 

For example, CoQ10 is a great supplement for promoting heart health but cannot be taken with anticoagulant medications, or you get the opposite results. Valerian is often used to help anxiety and insomnia, but if taken alongside antidepressants, the sedative effect can be multiplied and dangerous. 

St. John’s Wort is a popular supplement taken to help with a number of health issues. Unfortunately, this herb interacts badly with a number of prescribed medications, so you must tell your doctor if you are taking this herb for any reason. 

St. John’s Wort cannot be mixed with MAO inhibitors, SSRIs, blood-thinning medications, birth control, or medications used for migraines. 

How to Protect Yourself

With all the possible drug interactions, as well as possible interactions with everyday foods, there are a few things you can do to minimize your risk and stay safe when taking medications.

1. Your Pharmacist Matters 

It is ideal to go to the same pharmacist for all your prescriptions. They will have records of all your past medications as well as what you are currently taking and can best advise if there will be any dangerous interactions. 

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Always be sure to discuss all medications with your pharmacist including any over-the-counter ones you may be taking or are considering taking.

2. Mind Your Menu 

There are some common household foods that can interfere with the effectiveness of drugs or cause dangerous interactions. 

♦ Blood-thinning medications cannot be mixed with high doses of vitamin K, as it reduces their effectiveness and results in unwanted blood clotting

♦ Insulin medication cannot be mixed with alcohol or you increase your risk for hypoglycemia.

♦ Cholesterol-lowering medications cannot be mixed with grapefruit as it can dramatically increase the unpleasant side effects of the drugs.

♦ Antibiotics should not be mixed with dairy products, as these foods can prevent the absorption of the antibiotics.

♦ MAOI’s (prescribed for depression) should not be taken with foods that contain tyramine, such as aged cheese, dried fruits, and red wine. The interaction can cause dangerously elevated blood pressure levels.

♦ Antithyroid medications that are used to prevent hyperthyroidism cannot be mixed with foods rich in iodine. The iodine can increase side effects such as severe rashes and an even higher risk of liver disease. Iodine-rich foods include seafood as well as eggs and some dairy products.

♦ Garlic is an old fashioned remedy for a number of ailments, including reducing cholesterol and triglycerides. However, it can have an impact on blood clotting so should not be mixed with anticoagulant and blood-thinning medications. 

♦ Ginger is another food used for centuries to treat illness but can interfere with blood thinners and can lead to prolonged and excessive bleeding.

3. Monitor Your Reactions

There is a chance you will be on some medications for a long time, maybe even your whole life. It is important to remember that as you get older, your metabolism changes and this can impact how drugs are processed in your body. 

Be aware of how you are reacting to both current and new medications, and alert your doctor if anything feels different or if any side effects are too severe.

4. Keep Track of Your Medications 

There are a number of virtual apps and programs available today that can serve as your own personal pharmacist. While they are not designed to replace your pharmacist, they can help you keep track of your doses and schedules for medications, so you never miss or overdo anything. It can warn you of potential interactions as well as remind you that you need refills. 

Remember, these apps are not pharmacists, so if these programs alert you to a possible interaction, be sure to discuss it with a professional first.

5. Do Your Own  Research Too 

You can always do your own research into any medications that you are prescribed. This gives you the knowledge and can help you more openly discuss the drugs with your doctor as well as understand what to expect and what to watch out for. 

There are ways to research online if any drug you are taking interacts with another or with any foods, so look for answers yourself too. 

The Bottom Line

Medications are designed to help us with pain and illness but we need to remember that they contain chemicals. Just like in your chemistry classes, there are compounds that do not interact well with others, and if this happens inside your body, the results could be dangerous.

Trust medical professionals and follow their advice when taking multiple medications. Make sure you discuss everything with them upfront to avoid any dangerous drug interactions.

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