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Don't let your medicine make you sick

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By Robert Villanueva

 

BOX: Tips to prevent problems with medications: * Keep a record of all your medications, including over-the-counter medicines, herbal supplements and vitamins, making sure to list dosage and generic and brand names. * Keep a list of health conditions. * Be aware of side effects and precautions given for medication. * Dispose of old medicine. * Don't use old prescription bottles for current prescriptions. * Don't be afraid to ask your doctor or pharmacist questions. List compiled from sources at Hardin Memorial Hospital and Apothecare Pharmacy.     By ROBERT VILLANUEVA rvillanueva@thenewsenterprise.com ELIZABETHTOWN — What’s in your medicine cabinet might cure your headaches, but it can cause some as well. In some cases, the medications, whether prescription, over-the-counter or supplemental, can cause more harm than good, so it's important to take precautionary measures to make sure you're getting the maximum benefit out of your meds and not putting yourself at risk. Gary Hamm, registered pharmacist with Apothecare Pharmacy, recommends consumers become knowledgeable about their medications and keep a current list of what they take, as well as personal information that includes allergies and health conditions in the event of an emergency. “Certain medication can interfere with certain health conditions,” Hamm said. Dr. Natalie Miller, emergency room physician at Hardin Memorial Hospital, sees many patients who don’t realize that over-the-counter medications, herbal supplements and vitamins should be included when supplying a list of medications to a health care provider. Simple medications like aspirin or acetaminophen — commonly taken in the form of Tylenol — can affect how other medications perform or may cause problems. St. John’s Wort, for example, can increase a patient’s propensity to bleed, she said. “I think people are surprised,” Miller said of ER patients who find out that non-prescription drugs and supplements can interfere with other medications. Drug interactions can occur on various levels, both prescription and over-the-counter. One medicine might even make the use of another impractical. For example, antibiotics can cancel out the effects of blood thinner medications, Miller said. Other medications dictate what kind of treatment a patient can receive. Someone taking blood thinners or anticoagulants could be at a higher risk for bleeding when they come to the ER. The health care worker needs to know that. While patients who don’t list all their medications are the most common problem in the ER, other problems with medications can occur, Miller said. Sometimes patients use old bottles to put new prescriptions in, and that can be dangerous because health care providers need to know exactly what dosage of each medicine a patient is taking. Other medication problems can include not keeping prescriptions up to date. Ineffectiveness is the most common result of expired medication. But it’s not the only possible result. “In rare cases, they can be dangerous,” Hamm said. Another problem is that sometimes, a patient will unknowingly take different versions of the same medication under different names, essentially double dosing. A patient might not always be able to tell a health care worker what medications they are taking. They might not remember the dosage, either. But this information is necessary. “A lot of times a patient will come in with a bag of their medications,” Miller said. ER workers can only go by what information they are given, she said. Hardin Memorial Hospital personnel, in fact, suggest patients pack a brown paper bag with all their medicines and take it to their doctors at least once a year. “I think it’s important for a patient to have medications reviewed on every visit to the doctor,” Miller said. If a patient comes from a nursing home, physicians often rely on information provided by that facility. A patient isn’t always capable of keeping track of their medications. “A lot of times people can come in here with a family member, but not everybody has that,” Miller said. It’s important that patients keep their prescriptions current. They should also dispose of old medications. Patients are always welcome to ask for a list of medications from the hospital, Miller said. Some pharmacies help patients go over their medications, Hamm said. Patients need to become more informed consumers and should carefully read over print-outs that come with prescriptions. “We see a wide range of consumers,” Hamm said. “We see some who are very knowledgeable and some who are not.” Patients should not be afraid to ask their physicians questions about their medications and why they need to take them.   In order to keep track of their medications better, Hamm recommended people use only one pharmacy. Pharmacists also can be a good resource for information on medicine, Hamm said. “We’re always available to answer questions for our patients,” he said. Robert Villanueva can be reached at (270) 505-1743.