By Mike DuBose
Recently, we explored the importance of engaging with competent doctors and seeking annual physicals to maximize good health. Let’s continue our journey on how medications can help or hurt us!
Research your medications: Many individuals visit different medical professionals who treat “specific” aspects of their health. For example, your cardiologist may prescribe blood pressure meds, while another physician may recommend drugs for unrelated symptoms. We trust our doctors and pharmacists to know what’s good for us. While they do their best, medical professionals don’t know how new prescriptions will interact with you or what will happen when combined with other medications. Many doctors are pressured to see as many patients in a day as possible due to minimal insurance and Medicare reimbursements. Likewise, pharmacy personnel appear to be racing to fill hundreds of daily medication orders.
I was recently prescribed a medication thought to be safe by a specialist and filled by my pharmacist. However, afterwards, I received an urgent warning from my insurance company, that’s electronically connected to my pharmacy—”don’t take the drug because, when added to my other meds, it can cause dangerous irregular heartbeats which trigger strokes.” Another friend experienced the same scenario when she was prescribed the wrong drug which most likely led to her death based on post-mortem research. John Hopkins University reports that approximately 9,000 individuals die and thousands are hospitalized annually due to medication errors! According to a New York Times article, clinical pharmacist Timothy O’Shea, reported “Each year an estimated 4.5 million Americans visit physicians’ offices or emergency rooms because of prescription-related problems.” Chad Worz, PharmD, noted that older adults experience side effects more intensely as our bodies struggle to absorb or remove medications. As a result, blood pressure may be lowered, causing dizziness and falls. A study by the Lown Institute recently found that more than 40% of older Americans take at least 5 medicines and 20% take 10+ (excluding supplements and vitamins). Professor Sharon Lee, MD, with Mount Sinai Medical School, stated that some individuals take so many medications, they require “extra drugs” to offset the negative effects of other medicines. It’s alarming to see countless seniors in doctors’ offices with huge bags of prescription bottles! Even over-the-counter products, like Aspirin, can cause major problems!
So, thoroughly evaluate your meds by entering names/dosages into reputable websites and focus on “side effects.” Drugs.com contains excellent electronic tools where you enter prescriptions, vitamins, and supplements to cross-reference products you’re taking which may identify potential hazardous interactions. You can save your on-line file and update it as needs change. The resource lists individual drug reactions, but also reveals what happens when combined with other medications since they can produce new chemistry that creates threats!
Don’t become alarmed by the lengthy prescription problems listed on websites since they vary by individual. Studies show it takes two weeks for your body to adjust to new prescriptions. If you’re having serious symptoms, like heart palpitations, alert your doctor. Look for best times to take drugs with/without food and how other products interact with them. Grapefruit, for example, can diminish the effectiveness of some medications, and popular supplements can cause problems when taken with prescriptions. In some situations, you have to experiment and conduct your own research to examine each medication when concerns surface. For example, a friend suffered significant nausea for months. His doctor diagnosed his condition as reflux and prescribed medications to lower acids. The patient was instructed to sleep on elevated-wedge-like-pillows to reduce reflux. Not finding any relief, he consulted with a gastroenterologist who ordered medications for nausea that caused other side effects and conducted an endoscopic abdomen examination without results. But the nausea continued. I suggested that we examine his medicines for possible sources. Our research revealed nausea was a negative reaction from his blood thinner! He worked with his cardiologist, switched to the anticoagulant Eliquis, and his nausea disappeared!
Try alternatives until you find the best fit: If one drug’s reactions are excessive in comparison to its benefits, discuss concerns with your physician about similar medications that might work. Statins, while valuable in lowering you cholesterol, can cause joint and muscle pains. After testing different statins that caused significant problems, my doctor identified one that is tolerable for me. Ideally, you want to work with your medical team as “partners” to diagnose and treat you accurately.
Certain medications can mimic serious illnesses: A Wall Street Journal article noted that “Alzheimer’s symptoms such as confusion, memory loss, and personality changes can be complications from medications—even commonly-used prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs….Cholesterol-reducing statins have also been linked to brain fog in some people.” I was taking a popular statin and upon arrival at my home of 25 years, I couldn’t determine which key opened the front door—that was very scary!
Take advantage of technology: It’s frustrating you can’t pick up all medications together at the same time to avoid excessive trips! Many pharmacies offer on-line electronic systems that allow you to check prescription due dates, establish automatic refills, and alert you by text when your medications are ready. I added my renewal dates into my calendar as reminders. Double-check before leaving pharmacies to ensure your orders and prices are correct.
Bottom Line: What’s in your medicine cabinet? You don’t want to become “a statistic” when needlessly consuming too many or the wrong medications which could lead to sickness, disability, and even death!
Our next article will share prescription cost-savings and other strategies.
The DuBose family’s purpose is to “Create Opportunities to Improve Lives.” Mike is a staff member with USC’s graduate school. In 1987, he founded his family of companies and eventually wrote the book “The Art of Building Great Businesses.” Visit his nonprofit website www.mikedubose.com for free access to his books and 100+ published articles, including business, travel, and personal topics, in addition to health research with Surb Guram, MD.