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How to avoid adverse drug reactions

Created date

July 20th, 2015

Today, medication is often the cornerstone of health care treatment for many conditions, and in some instances, it seems miraculous that we can effectively treat or cure diseases once thought of as terminal.

On the other hand, medication can harm as much as it can help. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that adverse drug events (ADEs) result in over 700,000 emergency room visits every year—most by older adults. A study by the New England Journal of Medicine found that about half of these ADEs are related to commonly prescribed medicines such as blood thinners and diabetes medications. 

With age comes more chronic conditions and often a longer medication list. ADEs can result not only from prescription medications but also from seemingly innocuous over-the-counter medications. For instance, taking a pain reliever such as aspirin or ibuprofen if you are already on blood thinners can cause internal bleeding, and a common antihistamine called diphenhydramine (Benadryl) has been shown to be particularly dangerous for seniors. 

Up-to-date medications list

In order to avoid adverse reactions, your medication list should be accurate and current. Ideally, you should have one doctor in charge of monitoring your master list of medications and keeping up with changes. Always carry your list with you in case of an emergency hospitalization, and bring that list to every health care appointment so that different specialists won’t inadvertently prescribe a medication or treatment that may cause a reaction. Diet and exercise can affect how some medications work, so discuss any dietary or activity level changes with your doctor. If you have blood work or other tests done, call your doctor’s office to follow up on the results.  

Discuss any new medicines, both prescription and over-the-counter, with your medical provider or pharmacist, and ask detailed questions such as the best time of day to take a medicine and whether it works best when taken with food or on an empty stomach. Does once a day always mean in the morning? Does three times a day mean every eight hours around the clock or only while you’re awake? Are there any interactions or side effects that you should know about? Read prescription labels and inspect the medicine to be sure it appears as described on the medication information pamphlet.

Please remember that medication can improve the quality of your health and well-being, but you need to take an active role in managing your regimen to maximize the benefit and limit the risk.