Nearly half of the U.S. population suffers from heart disease, high cholesterol or diabetes. In fact, 13% of Americans have more than one of these conditions, and yet, many don’t realize that they are putting themselves at risk by not understanding the basics of their condition and treatment.
Many commonly prescribed medications have potentially fatal side effects from interactions with other medications, over-the-counter drugs, supplements and even food.
The Value of Specialized Expertise
As a specialist pharmacist in the Express Scripts Cardiovascular Therapeutic Resource Center, I work with a team of trained experts dedicated to helping patients with heart disease.
Statins are among the most popular and potent class of medications to treat high cholesterol, and yet most people don’t know that something as common as grapefruit juice can increase the risk of muscle pain and have serious adverse – even life-threatening – effects. Grapefruit juice can cause significant increases in the concentration of popular statins in the body and make them much more potent.
Medications that can have this interaction include: atorvastatin, simvastatin, lovastatin and fluvastatin.
Patients who are on these medications often do not read the cautionary statements that come in their medication package and often don’t have access to a pharmacist with the clinical expertise to help them understand the risks and get the most benefit from their medication.
Understanding Your Medications
My job is to make sure that patients know everything they need to know about their medications. When I talk to patients, I always ask them about their diet and other medications. Depending on their profile and lifestyle, sometimes we recommend patients have a discussion with their doctor about a lower dose of the medication or an alternative medication. We partner with their physicians to help address any potential health risks.
Another potentially dangerous drug interaction is between warfarin – a routinely prescribed blood thinner and common over-the-counter drugs. Patients with atrial fibrillation or an abnormal heartbeat are at a high risk of blood clots that can lead to a stroke. A blood thinner is required to help prevent these blood clots. Antidepressants, alcohol, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and aspirin, and even herbal products like ginko biloba and garlic can potentiate the effects of warfarin and increase the risk of internal bleeding.
Not understanding these risks can cause worsening of the disease, unnecessary hospitalizations, even death.
If you are one of the millions of Americans with one of these common diseases, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
Watch out for risky foods: Many foods and herbal supplements interact with commonly prescribed medications and can have potentially life threatening adverse effects.
Know that over-the-counter drugs are medications too: Statins and many other prescription medications can interact with other drugs, including over-the-counter drugs and vitamins.
Be aware that drug efficacy can vary: Some medication interactions can increase the potency of a drug significantly or make it less effective.
Be informed: When talking to your doctor or pharmacist, carefully think about all the medications you are on.
Use as directed: Know when to take your medications and whether it should be taken with food or on an empty stomach.
Be adherent to your medication therapy: Nonadherence is one of the costliest issues facing healthcare today. Taking your medications as prescribed by your doctor will ensure they are effective and help manage your condition.
Don’t just take medication when it "feels" needed: Asymptomatic conditions still require adherence to a therapy regime. For example, hypertension is referred to as a silent killer because blood pressure can be at dangerous levels with no symptoms present. Don’t stop taking your medications or only take it “when needed” without talking to your physician or your specialist pharmacist.
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