Quick question: how many medicines do you take? Be sure to count prescriptions and the over-the-counter stuff. If you’re generally healthy, it may not have taken you very long to tally those up, but if you have a chronic condition or are recovering from an illness or disease, you may have taken just a bit longer to remember everything you’re taking. There’s nothing wrong with either scenario, however, keeping a running list of what you take – whether it’s four medications or 14 – is extremely helpful to both you and your doctor. Let’s say you visit your doctor, but have failed to tell him or her about every medication you take. Now, let’s say the doctor prescribes you a new medicine on this visit, but because he or she didn’t know all the medications you’re taking, you are unintentionally prescribed a medication that poses a risk to your health because it interacts with something you’re taking already.
Blount Memorial Hospital pharmacist Barbara Kahn says, for this reason, it’s important to keep a list of every single medicine you take. “Having a full medication history on-hand can help identify, resolve or prevent drug-related problems,” she said. “In a patient with heart failure, chronic renal failure and a history of stroke, taking an over-the-counter analgesic or pain reliever may be a big risk to his or her health. Analgesics are by far the most-popular class of over-the-counter medications. They’re generally effective in management of moderate to mild pain, and they offer advantages because they’re readily available and generally low-cost. Sometimes, though, over-the-counter analgesics are too easy to use, and because of this, some patients simply don’t consider them to be real ‘medications,’” she explained.
Kahn says two different types of over-the-counter drugs are crucial to make note of for your doctor visits. “NSAIDs or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or naproxen over a three-month period often are associated with rates of gastric ulceration between 15-35 percent,” Kahn said. “Taking them regularly increases the risk of ulcers, which can cause bleeding, high blood pressure, worsening of kidney function, heart attacks and strokes. Acetaminophen, too, can cause problems. Acetaminophen toxicity remains the most-common cause of acute liver failure in the United States. Most cases are unintentional overdoses, but a substantial minority of patients with significant liver toxicity due to acetaminophen has misused the medication without realizing it,” she explained.
Kahn says there are five things to improve outcomes when using over-the-counter medications. “First and foremost, keep a list of every remedy you use, and carry it with you to all visits with your providers,” she said. “They all should see the same list. Many doctors will ask you to bring your medication bottles with you to the visit. This includes tubes of ointments or creams, patches and any form of supplements. Next, get your pharmacist involved. They’re excellent resources for answering questions and providing information. Third, read your labels, and know what each ingredient on the label is supposed to do to help you. Fourth, ask your doctor or pharmacist the risks of any new medicine. With your list handy, your provider should be able to give you the best options for your risk-benefit profile when it comes to using NSAIDs or acetaminophen medications,” she said. “Finally, when it comes to taking different medicines to treat different kinds of pain, talk to your provider about how to manage them safely. You may be taking one pill for headaches, one pill for arthritis and another for back pain, your doctor may be able to help you better manage your pain and your medicines,” she added.