Understanding Drug Interactions

If your loved one takes more than one type of medication, it’s important for you both to know about the basics of drug interaction.

Understanding drug interaction is particularly important for caregivers, because many care recipients take multiple medications. This is especially true with elderly care recipients who consume almost 40 percent of all over-the-counter drugs and 30 percent of all prescription drugs.

A drug interaction is a change in the effect of a drug when it is taken with another drug, food, or substance. Because medications are prescribed to treat specific illnesses or symptoms, such changes mean that the drug is no longer effective, and in many cases, it could become very dangerous.

Drugs interact in a few ways, including:

  • By increasing or decreasing drug absorption from the stomach and intestines
  • By increasing or decreasing the rate at which the body breaks drugs down in the liver
  • By increasing or decreasing the rate at which the drugs are excreted from the body by the kidneys
  • By causing competing actions in the body

Your loved one is at a greater risk for experiencing a drug interaction if he or she:

  • Is dehydrated
  • Is female
  • Is overweight
  • Takes multiple drugs
  • Is very young or old
  • Has congestive heart failure
  • Has had a previous drug interaction
  • Has liver or kidney damage
  • Has low or high blood pressure
  • Has multiple diseases
  • Has poor nutrition

If your loved one falls into any of these at-risk categories, or if you have additional concerns or questions about a possible drug interaction, contact your loved one’s pharmacist or doctor. You can also help protect your loved one by following these simple steps:

  • Make sure that the doctor knows about—and is kept updated on—all medications taken by your loved one (herbal medications, home remedies, over-the-counter drugs, and prescriptions drugs).
  • Once a year, have your loved one’s doctor or pharmacist review all of his or her medications.
  • Ask the doctor or pharmacist questions about anything that you don’t understand.
  • Always go to the same pharmacy to fill your loved one’s prescriptions.
  • Don’t keep expired medications in the medicine cabinet.
  • Read all drug labels and instructions carefully.
  • Know what to do if new symptoms or side effects occur.
  • Give medication to your loved one with a full glass of water.
  • Never administer medications prescribed for someone else to your loved one.
  • Do not combine medicines with food or beverages (especially hot or alcoholic drinks) unless instructed to do so by the doctor.
  • Do not give your loved one vitamins at the same time that medications are taken unless the doctor instructs you to do so.

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