Potentially serious drug interactions are a daily threat to older people who take multiple medications and supplements, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
One drug can affect the effectiveness of other drugs and how your body uses them. For example, your kidney and liver may not work as well, which affects how drugs are broken down and leave your body, the FDA said.
“There is no question that physiology changes as we age. Many chronic medical conditions don’t even appear until our later years,” Dr. Sandra Kweder, an FDA medical officer, said in an agency news release. “It’s not that people are falling to pieces; some changes are just part of the normal aging process.”
The FDA says these safety tips will help prevent harmful drug interactions or side effects:
- Follow your doctor’s directions. You shouldn’t take drugs that your doctor doesn’t know about. Follow your prescription. Don’t skip or change your dosage even if you feel fine or think the medicine isn’t working. Let your doctor know if you develop symptoms or side effects. “Medication can’t work unless you take it,” Kweder said. “For instance, medications that treat chronic conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes typically only work when taken regularly and as directed.”
- Keep a medication list. Jot down the brand and generic names along with doses and instructions for all drugs you take, and keep this list with you at all times. If anything changes, update your list. Consider giving a copy to a friend or relative in case of emergency, especially when you travel.
- Learn about possible drug interactions and side effects. Some drugs affect how others work and some interactions are dangerous. Even over-the-counter (OTC) drugs or herbal remedies can affect how your medicines work. Alcohol can, too. It’s important to read the drug-facts label on medications and any special instructions from your doctor. If you have more than one doctor, tell each one about all prescription, OTC drugs and supplements you take. Your pharmacist can also explain possible side effects and drug interactions.
- Routinely go over your medication list with your doctor. This will help ensure that all drugs and supplements you take are still necessary and appropriate. Let your doctor know if you can’t afford any of your medications. Sometimes there are cheaper, yet effective alternatives. Let your doctor know if you think any medication isn’t working.
“As a society, we have become reliant on pharmaceuticals to help us attain a longer and higher-quality life. It’s a wonderful success of Western medicine,” Kweder said. “The goal should be for each of us to access that benefit but respect that medicines are serious business. To get the most out of them, you should take them with great care and according to directions.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about medication safety.