The wrong combination of medicines – whether prescription or over-the-counter – can be deadly. There are more than 100,000 over-the-counter medications on the market and most of us are given an average of two prescriptions every time we go to the pharmacy. This makes the threat of accidentally harming yourself very real. Don’t become a tragic statistic. Here’s everything you need to know before reaching for another pill. Click here for an Herb and Supplement Interaction Checker.
Dr. Oz’s Drug Interaction Checker
1. SSRI Antidepressants
About 27 million Americans take SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) antidepressants. Most people who take these drugs are aware that they should avoid drinking alcohol since it can lessen the effects of the medication. However, there are prescription and over-the counter (OTC) meds and supplements that can also dangerously interact with your SSRI antidepressant.
RX Interaction: Prescription Pain Medication
Serotonin controls more than just your mood; it also affects your heart, breathing and muscles. When RX pain meds interact with SSRIs, a deadly reaction called serotonin syndrome can occur. Wide-ranging symptoms include delirium, restlessness, euphoria, shivering, diarrhea, etc. Severe serotonin syndrome can be fatal if not treated in a timely manner. What’s more, 85% of physicians are unaware of serotonin syndrome as a clinical diagnosis, so it’s very important that you be aware of it if you’re taking this category of medication.
OTC Interaction: OTC Antihistamines
When SSRI antidepressants are combined with OTC antihistamines, you can experience prolonged and intensified side effects such as drowsiness. This kind of excess fatigue could result in fatal mishaps such as falling asleep while driving.
Supplement Interaction: St. John’s Wort
St. John’s Wort, an over-the-counter herbal remedy used to treat depression, can also lead to serotonin syndrome when combined with SSRI medication.
2. HCTZ Blood Pressure Medication
Approximately 16 million people in the US take diuretics such as HCTZ (hydrochlorothiazide) to reduce high blood pressure (hypertension). However, warnings about taking these drugs with other medications are frequently not reviewed with the patient by the prescriber.
RX Interaction: Heart Rhythm Medication
When HCTZ meds are mixed with heart rhythm medication, low potassium levels can result, which can lead to fatal cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat).
OTC Interaction: OTC Decongestants
These drugs decrease the effectiveness of BP meds, which means your blood pressure levels can then start to climb.
Food Interaction: Licorice
Glycyrrhizin found in black licorice root, and also used in some sweeteners and herbal teas, can also lower potassium levels, which puts your heart at risk.
3. Cholesterol-lowering Drugs: Statins
Twenty-four million Americans take cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins on a daily basis. You may already know that statins can sometimes cause muscle soreness. Combined with the wrong prescription, OTC meds or food, statins can also cause dangerous muscle breakdown.
RX Interaction: Prescription Oral Fungal/Yeast Infection Medication
This seemingly benign-sounding drug actually amplifies and destroys muscle, which can impact the kidneys’ ability to filter out toxins and even lead to kidney failure.
Supplement Interaction: Vitamin B Complex
Vitamin B complex also impacts muscle damage when combined with statins and can cause the kidneys to break down.
Food Interaction: Grapefruit Juice
Grapefruit juice and statins also wreck havoc on muscles and lead to kidney damage.
Improve Your Prescription Drug Know-How
If you’re taking prescription meds, be a smart patient. Here’s everything you need to know to avoid becoming a victim of the estimated 51.1 million prescription-filling errors made each year.
1. Primary Local Pharmacy
Even if you use mail-order pharmacies to save money on long-term prescriptions, you still need to have all your prescriptions filled at a primary local pharmacy at least once. This allows the pharmacy to keep an up-to-date personal medication record, and allows you to develop a strong relationship with your pharmacist.
2. Be Aware of Pharmacy Rush Hour
Avoid filling prescriptions at the beginning of the month, when pharmacies are busiest. Research shows that in the first few days of each month, fatalities due to medication errors rise by as much as 25%. Also, don’t fill at prime hours such as lunchtime or after work. Try filling your prescriptions when the pharmacy first opens or 20 minutes before closing time.
3. Always Ask Your Pharmacist About the Side Effects of a New Medication
You should always ask your pharmacist about the side effects of a new medication and review what the medication is used for. It’s also a good idea to ask them general questions regarding how to take meds (with or without food), if you need refills, when drugs expire, and what to do if you miss a dose.