How Many Are Too Many?
Many people can benefit from daily medications and supplements. Almost 1 in 4 adult Americans take a daily supplement along with daily medication. But the more pills a person takes, the higher the risk of medication interactions or unwanted side effects. How can patients know what medications come with increased risk? Consider these 3 questions to ask the pharmacist.
1. How severe are the side effects?
Many medications can come with a side of an upset stomach, but others can have more severe risks. For example, some prescriptions come with an increased risk of bleeding or liver damage. In patients who already have underlying health conditions, these side effects may be severe enough that the patient may not want to take the medication. In these cases, be sure to talk to the doctor or pharmacist about other medicines that may pose less risk.
2. Will this affect my other medications or supplements?
If a doctor has prescribed a specific medicine, that means the healthcare provider has determined that the benefits outweigh the risks. However, patients always need to be 100% forthright about sharing a full list of current prescriptions or supplements. For example, certain antacids can be harmful to someone with kidney disease. Or, a specific herb such as ginkgo biloba could increase bleeding risk in patients who are also taking prescribed blood thinners. Before starting any medication, make sure that an entire medication and supplement list has been shared.
3. What happens if I miss a dose?
To manage risk as much as possible, people should always take medications exactly as prescribed. This means that patients need to have a solid grasp on the strength and dosage of the drug, as well as the specified frequency. Also, ask what will happen if a day is skipped. Should patients take an extra dose? Or does this increase medication risks? Write down all pertinent information from the pharmacist so as not to forget.
Risks vs benefits
Every medication choice comes down to weighing risks and benefits. Weighing these pros and cons should be done in collaboration with a healthcare provider or pharmacist who is knowledgeable about potential side effects and drug interactions. For example, if a person has a minor ear infection, the symptoms may clear up without needing antibiotics. In other cases, a health condition or disease may be so severe that the benefits of the medication outweigh any side effects or risks. For more information about managing medication risks, speak with a healthcare provider or pharmacist.