The dangers of drug interactions

When people take more than one medication, or if they take other dietary or nutritional supplements in addition to their prescription or over-the-counter medication, drug interactions can occur. The risks are different for different people, based on age, any underlying diseases or conditions and lifestyle, but some drug interactions can be deadly.

Christopher Cook of Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital’s Pharmacy Department talked about the dangers of drug interactions July 8, 2014, during a live interview on KIT 1280.

How big a concern are drug interactions?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, roughly half of all Americans have taken a prescription drug in the past month. It is critical for anyone taking a drug to consider the potential for interaction with other substances in the body. Drugs can react to other medications, supplements and food or alcohol. These interactions can reduce or increase the effectiveness of drugs or lead to dangerous side effects.

What factors affect drug interactions?

There are some common factors – genetics, age, diet, exercise, current medications, any underlying diseases or conditions and the amount of time between the drugs being taken. However, some results can take weeks to develop.

What kinds of interactions are most common?

Drugs can interact with any other substances in the body.

  • Drug interactions with other drugs – Prescription drugs can interact not just with other prescription drugs, but also over-the-counter medications. Many over-the-counter medications are not as benign as some might believe.
  • Nutritional and herbal supplements – The FDA estimates that half of Americans regularly use dietary supplements, such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids and herbs or botanicals. Combining these supplements with drugs can cause serious adverse reactions.
  • Food and alcohol – Some medications are intended to be taken with food to prevent stomach interaction; other times, food can slow the body’s absorption of a medication. Some drugs can affect a person’s appetite and can interfere with the absorption of nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals.

How do I prevent these drug interactions?

People taking a prescription or over the counter medication should check with their physician or pharmacist to determine if there is a risk for adverse reactions. Three of the most commonly used prescription drug classes can result in a variety of drug interactions if patients are not aware of the risk and misuse them:

  • Antidepressants
  • Blood pressure medication
  • Cholesterol drugs

What are some common interactions with those drugs?

  • Antidepressants are known to interact with some antihistamines, causing extreme drowsiness, and with St. John’s wort, a dietary supplement used to treat depression.
  • Over-the-counter decongestants can decrease the effectiveness of blood-pressure medication.
  • Mixing cholesterol drugs with certain dietary supplements or foods can damage muscles.

To be safe, always check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking any medication or supplement.


Source: Centers for Disease Control, National Institutes of Health

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