Opinion Columns & Blogs

Always ask your doctor about drug interactions

If you’ve ever seen a doctor for almost any kind of ailment, you know that you usually don’t leave their office without some kind of prescription in your hand. It seems as if the pharmaceutical industry has come up with a pill to treat just about everything that might be troubling you.

And if you’ve been through the process of taking new medications more than a few times, like I have, you know that it’s kind of a crap shoot when you swallow those pills. Sometimes they do help you get better, sometimes they do nothing, and sometimes they make your problem worse or have negative side effects that outweigh their benefits.

It gets even more exciting if you’re already taking something regularly and they add something new. In that case you sometimes find out that different medications can interact with each other inside your body and cause all sorts of problems they wouldn’t cause on their own.

A kindergarten teacher from Houston County found that out the hard way in 2013 when she was given a drug during surgery that interacted with a medication that was already in her system and caused her to experience something nasty called serotonin syndrome. A local jury awarded her a record $20.5 million in damages last week because the pharmaceutical company that made the drug she was administered during surgery didn’t properly label its interactive properties.

Fortunately I haven’t experienced anything that serious myself, but I have had issues with mixing medications that didn’t play well together inside my system. One time in particular I was prescribed a medication for suspected gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining) that prevented other medications I was taking from being absorbed properly by my body.

Within a few days I started to see a return of the symptoms my original medication had been treating and I figured out what the issue was through my own research. The doctor I was seeing at the time failed to mention this side effect, and I don’t believe he even looked at my list of current medications when he wrote the prescription for the new one.

I’m afraid that happens a lot. I often get the impression that when I see a doctor for a new issue he or she only considers and treats my current symptoms. They often don’t take the time to look at my history and what medications I’m already on before they fire off a new prescription and usher me on to the cashier to pay for the visit.

And so experience has taught me to take a more active role in my own health care. Any time I visit a new doctor I take a list of the medications I’m currently taking and if he or she starts me on something new I always ask if it might interact with something I’m already on.

I strongly suggest that you do the same thing. Doctors often seem to be overloaded these days and you feel like they are rushing to get in and out of the exam room as fast as possible. Don’t let them out of the door until you’ve asked this question and gotten a clear answer.

You can also ask your pharmacist about interactions when you go to pick up a prescription. They seem to be less harried than doctors usually are and generally don’t mind answering whatever questions you might have about what you’re picking up. You are paying for their expertise when you buy medication from them, so don’t be shy about asking them for information.

Follow the same “always ask” policy when you or a loved one are in the hospital, too. Unless it’s a life threatening situation, they should inform you about what drugs they are administering. Don’t assume they have checked for interaction issues — always get clarification.

There was a time when I was too intimidated to question my doctors about anything, but experience has taught me that you have to speak up and get your concerns addressed. You must be your own advocate in these situations because no one cares about your life and your health as much as you do.

Bill Ferguson is a resident of Warner Robins. Readers can write him at fergcolumn@hotmail.com.