Seven dangerous medicine mix-ups

Many people are unaware of how some medications interact with other pharmaceutical treatments and which combinations need to be avoided.

It’s estimated that up to 40 per cent of Australians over 65 are on five or more medications, and sometimes that can have dire consequences.

Adverse drug events account for more than 400,000 doctor visits and 190,000 hospital admissions each year. These figures don’t even take into account hospitalisations from car accidents or falls that may have been caused by medicine mix-ups.

Here are seven of the most common medicine mistakes people make.

1. Mixing drugs that interact adversely
Blood-thinning medication warfarin is one drug that commonly presents problems when taken with other medicines. The commonly prescribed anticoagulant interacts with some anti-fungal pills and creams, anti-arrhythmic drugs, thyroid drugs and diuretics, among others, to increase the risk of bleeding. Over-the-counter medicines such as aspirin and herbal medicines such as St John’s Wort can also interact with prescription medicines. These are just a few examples, but there are plenty more. Whenever you are prescribed a new medicine, it is important to mention any other supplements or medications you are taking to your doctor, and to ask if these will cause issues.

2. Mixing drugs and alcohol
A good doctor will warn you what medications you should not mix with alcohol, but not all medication requires a prescription. Some over-the-counter pain medications and antihistamine tablets will cause severe sedative effects when combined with alcohol. You also shouldn’t mix alcohol with antibiotic medication as it can cause nausea and vomiting.

3. Taking medicines incorrectly
Lack of information, instructions that are difficult to understand, and complex regimens can lead to patients not taking medicines correctly. When you leave your doctor’s office, you need to know the name of the medication, what it is for, how many times you should take it and how your body might react. It is a good idea to ask the doctor to write out the instructions in his office in order to avoid any confusion (although you may still have to decipher their handwriting).

4. The wrong prescription
The handwriting problem is real and sometimes it has consequences. If the pharmacist is unable to read the doctor’s handwriting they may make a mistake. To avoid this, you can ask your doctor to write down what the drug is for on the prescription pad, which will help the pharmacist select the right medication. Other mix-ups can occur in pharmacies as well. Before you leave the pharmacy make sure that it is your name on the medicine bottles; and if you are picking up a refill, make sure that the tablets look the same as the ones you had before. If they look different, make sure you ask the pharmacist why.

5. Different doctors
Mistakes can also occur if you don’t see the same doctor for all your medical needs. Doctors should have access to all your medical history, but it isn’t uncommon for things to fall through the cracks. Where possible, try and have a single doctor manage and oversee all your medical issues and medications. If you see other healthcare professionals such as dermatologists or any other specialists, they should ask you which other medications you are on before prescribing you another. If they don’t, make sure that you are ready to tell them, and if you are on several medications, you should be equipped with a list of their names and the doses you are taking.

6. Taking unnecessary medicines
Doctors may feel it’s not their responsibility to withdraw medications prescribed by another doctor, so patients may be prescribed something for a temporary condition that has since resolved. In a study where GPs were trained to review medications of elderly people, many were able to successfully reduce the number of medications taken by their patients.

7. Under-medicating
Confusion, forgetfulness or neglect on the part of their carer can also lead to under-medication. Patients on antibiotics can suffer side effects and may stop taking medicines; or they might feel better and stop taking the antibiotics before they’re fully recovered. This can also be a problem with other medications as well. Remember that it is always important to follow the doctor’s medication instructions to the letter, and to consult your doctor before stopping a course of medication earlier than prescribed.

For more information visit WebMD

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