You know the drill. Every time you see the doctor, you're quizzed about what medications and dietary supplements you take.
One reason for the question is simple—the doctor wants to know what's going into your body. A less obvious reason? Drug interactions.
Modern medications can help you enjoy life despite your pain, but combining certain medications can cause unwelcome surprises. One medication or supplement can interfere with or intensify another's effect. In the worst cases, the combination can be life-threatening.
Keep the doctor posted
To save yourself trouble down the line, make sure you have a thorough, up-to-date list of medications for the doctor—including dietary supplements and herbal remedies.
Keeping the list in your wallet, purse, or cell phone is a good way to make sure you'll have it handy if you make an unexpected trip to the doctor or the ER.
These are a few interactions to watch for:
Sedatives don't mix
Many medications for chronic pain cause drowsiness. Some of the most dangerous interactions stem from taking two medications at once that both make you sleepy, so you need to be careful.
To play it safe, don't take more than one medication on this list at the same time:
- Opioids, also called narcotics or painkillers
- Antihistamines, often used for colds and allergies
- Anxiety medication, such as benzodiazepines
- Sleep aids
- Muscle relaxers
If you need to take two medications on this list, talk things over with your doctor to find the best solution.
When NSAIDs can be a problem
The nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs ibuprofen (brand names Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn) thin the blood, and could cause bleeding problems if you're also taking a blood thinner medication, such as warfarin (Coumadin).
Ibuprofen and naproxen may also limit the effectiveness of some blood pressure medications and diuretics, or water pills. One more thing to remember: avoid drinking alcohol while using one of these NSAIDs.
What about supplements?
Supplements are often sought after as a safe, natural alternative to medication. Unfortunately, supplements and natural remedies can cause major interactions with medications.
St. John's Wort, for instance, has a wide range of possible interactions. One of the most serious is the risk of a life-threatening increase in a brain chemical when used with antidepressants. It can also hamper the effectiveness of blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin), that are designed to slow blood clotting. In addition, St. John's Wort can limit the impact of opioids and contraceptives.
These are just a few of the potential interactions involving medications and supplements. To check for interactions yourself, search for "drug interaction tracker" online.