Many Americans take at least one prescription drug a day. Include vitamins, supplements and over-the-counter pills, and that can add up to a handful. We take pills for everything from high cholesterol to low sex drive. When medications interact with each other, they may not work as they're meant to.
Pills that clash: aspirin and ibuprofen
Doctors advise that some people who are at risk for a heart attack take aspirin every day. This keeps blood from clotting too quickly. When clots form, they can get blocked heart arteries, causing a heart attack. While we need some blood clotting (without it we'd bleed to death), aspirin helps keep the blood flowing smoothly.
Here's the snag. Many people who take aspirin also take ibuprofen for aches and pains. When you take this drug with aspirin, aspirin may lose some of its ability to prevent heart attacks. Also, both medications can raise your risk for stomach ulcers and bleeding problems. Ask your doctor before you take both of these medications.
Other over-the-counter mixups
Many over-the-counter drugs react with other medications. For example, taking a sedative and an antihistamine (such as Benadryl) can slow your reactions even more than either alone. This can lead to accidents or falls.
Herbs not always safe
Some herbal remedies should not be combined with other drugs, either. St. John's Wort, a popular treatment for depression, may make some HIV drugs ineffective. The herb may also render birth control pills useless.
Ginkgo, taken to improve memory, may interact with the blood thinner warfarin (Coumadin). Another herb, kava kava, should not be taken with tranquilizers, antidepressants or drugs used to treat Parkinson's disease. Some herbs interact with medicines used during surgery to put you to sleep.
Even fruit can cause problems. Some people can't have grapefruit or grapefruit juice because of interactions with their drugs. These include some antidepressants, statins and drugs for heart conditions, AIDS and seizures.
Doctor knows best
It's a good idea to give your doctor a complete list of all the medicines you take. If you see several doctors, make sure they all know what the others are prescribing. If you can, shop at one pharmacy so the pharmacist knows all the drugs you take.
Include your over-the counter meds, vitamins, supplements and herbal remedies on the list. Your doctor can't warn you about drug interactions without knowing what other medications you take.
Before you take any medicine, ask your doctor or pharmacist:
- Can I take it with other medications?
- Should I avoid any foods, drinks or other products?
- What symptoms should I watch for?
Created on 10/24/2006
Updated on 05/14/2010
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Drug interactions: what you should know.
- Colorado State University. Nutrient-drug interactions and food.
- Kuhn MA. Herbal remedies: drug-herb interactions.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Risk of drug interactions with St. John's Wort and indinavir and other drugs.
- Kurth T, Glynn RJ, Walker AM, et al. Inhibition of clinical benefits of aspirin on first myocardial infarction by nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs. Circulation. 2003;108:1191-1195.