6 ways to minimize prescription drug interactions

The use of prescription medications in the United States has steadily increased over the years. About three out of every five American adults take a prescription drug – in 2012, 59% of people 20 years of age and older used them compared to 51% in 2000.  People taking five or more prescription medications at the same time nearly doubled during that same time period from 8% to 15%.

If you are taking more than one drug or several different types of medications and are seeing several different doctors, you may be at risk of a possible drug interaction.  Knowing how to manage medications to avoid side effects is critical when taking many medications at the same time.

1.      Know what the medication is for

Prescription medications can be confusing.  The names are hard to pronounce and spell making it easy to get them mixed up.  Always ask your doctor or pharmacist what each medication is for.  Write down each medication you are on listing for what condition it is used for and the dosage.  Each time you go to a doctor, bring your medications with you so the nurse or doctor can visually see exactly what you are on.


2.      Know how to use the medication

Get the exact instructions on how to take the medication.  What time of day, the frequency, how many pills to take and whether to take it with food or not.  Some medications require  food to aid in their absorption or to prevent them from irritating the stomach lining.  Other drugs should be not taken with food as food may interfere with the drug’s absorption.  Always ask both the doctor and the pharmacist what you need to avoid when taking prescription medication.

3.      Use the same pharmacy

Your doctor’s offices will have a record of the prescriptions you take as do the pharmacy that fills your prescription.  However not all pharmacies have access to other pharmacies records making your prescription drug record more fragmented.  Using the same pharmacy avoids any break in information and can be relied upon in the advent of an emergency situation.

4.      Read drug labels carefully

Whenever you are prescribed a new medication, read the drug labels carefully and learn about the possible warnings and potential side effects for all medications you take.  That way you will be forewarned if a new symptom occurs shortly after taking a new medication.

5.      Be careful if drinking alcohol or grapefruit juice

Alcohol and prescription may or may not coexist.  Alcohol can increase drowsiness and irritate the lining of the esophagus and stomach when combined with certain drugs. 

Grapefruit juice can affect the metabolism of several medications.  Usually it takes about a quart of the juice before this would happen but it’s still a good idea to know if it could negatively affect the drug. 

Talk to your pharmacist about both alcohol and grapefruit juice’s compatibility with any prescription medication you are taking.

6.      Supplements are not always safe with medications

Around 50% of Americans use some type of dietary supplement on a regular basis.  Some of the more serious reactions occur due to combining prescription medication and supplements.  As an example, taking vitamin E or ginseng with the blood-thinning medication Coumadin can increase anti-clotting activity possibly increasing risk of bleeding.  High doses of Ginkgo biloba can decrease the effectiveness of anticonvulsant therapy in patients taking medication to control seizures.  Be open and honest with both your doctor and pharmacist of any supplements you are taking in order to avoid any serious health complication.